Jessica Braun has blossomed in the situation.
Where some players fold under the pressure of playing golf with better players on a regular pressure, the North Salem High School senior accepted the challenge of the competition and steadily improved.
The same kind of drive carried her to a 3.81 GPA, while taking a full course load of honors and advanced placement classes has helped her to find ways to shave strokes off of her game and become one of the top golfers in the Greater Valley Conference.
“I think instead of feeling like gosh, I’m not that great in comparison, it’s that’s what I can be,” North Salem coach Josn Lee said.
“And I think that with the possibility of her going on and playing at the next level, when she does have that time to commit and is able to practice consistently throughout the year, she’s going to see even lower scores, pretty dramatically, drastically when she has that time to put into it.”
Braun said that unlike the ultra-competitive nature of swimming – in which she was 17th and 18th in the 100 and 50 freestyle in the GVC district meet – she enjoys the social aspects of competing in golf.
“In golf it’s such a friendly sport and you make so many friends when you’re playing 18 holes at tournaments,” Braun said. “And it’s great. I don’t feel like I have to beat these girls.”
Braun had to earn every bit of her OSAA Class 6A state meet qualification last year.
She placed fifth in the Greater Valley Conference by shooting a 36-hole score of 179, but had to play in the Special District tournament between the GVC and the Southern Conference to qualify.
Though she said she was vexed by getting stuck in a wet sand trap, she still recovered to shoot 97, place 16th and qualify for the state meet individually.
At the state meet she shot rounds of 89 and 93 to place 56th.
“I think Jessica was a little nervous going into the regional tournament, but she played really well on a tough day at the regional tournament last year and she got a little boost of confidence just knowing that she can compete at that level,” Lee said.
She said the confidence from that finish to the season along with her ability to consistently shoot in the 80s in the second half of her junior season gave her the confidence that she could play with competitive golfers.
Toward that end she is planning on attending Pacific University – where she wants to major in biology on a career track to become a physician’s assistant – and play golf for the Boxers.
“Before last year I didn’t think I would be any good in the future,” she said. “Not really. My freshman year and my sophomore year, I mean I was improving, but I didn’t think I would get as good as I did last year, in the 80s. It was very surprising.”
Braun played some golf as a youth, but she was far from enamored with the sport.
But going into North Salem she had to choose between track and golf and she made her choice.
She said she took lessons from former West Salem boys coach Howard Robertson and that gave her a significant boost.
“She’s always had a really consistent swing,” Lee said. “She’s always been very smooth and she kind of came in with a great swing. It’s just been a matter of eliminating some of the do-over shots and things like that. And when she’s on, she plays really well.”
“She is really competitive with the girls in the district. There’s a couple of new girls that are scoring pretty well already, but I think she has a chance to be competing right up at the top if she continues to peak like she did last year.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6701 or Twitter.com/bpoehler
Greater Valley: West Salem junior Andrew Eyre, last year’s Special District medalist, is the heavy favorite to win the conference individually. The Titans also return Will Papendieck and have the talent to compete with last year’s district champion West Albany and a deep McNary team that includes senior returning state meet qualifiers in Brady Sparks and Riley Hancock.
Mid-Willamette: Though Crescent Valley is the favorite to win the conference, Woodburn returns state meet qualifiers in Gabe Hernandez and Reggie Reyes and will compete for a state meet spot.
4A Special District 2: Though Stayton doesn’t return any of its state meet qualifiers from last year, the young team has a freshman in Evan Massena who has the potential to compete for the district title.
3A/2A/1A Special District 2: A young Regis team that won the district championship last year returns its top four players in Kyle Humphreys, Casey Humphreys, Dawson Dickey and Seth Kelley, but could get a challenge from a Blanchet team including state meet qualifiers Nick Conway, Mike Bashaw, Aneesh Namburi and Ryan Scanlan.
Greater Valley: With a team including last year’s district champion and Oregon State commit Ellie Slama and Ashley Zhu, who placed third in the conference a year ago, South Salem is the favorite to win the title again. McNary returns district runner-up and Concordia signee Cammie Decker, who will contend for a top 10 spot in the state.
Mid-Willamette: Crescent Valley and Corvallis are expected to compete for the top spot, but Dallas junior Kailee Curtis showed last year she has the potential to compete with the top individuals in the conference.
4A/3A/2A/1A Special District 2: A Blanchet team that includes state meet qualifiers in Carolina Ditzler, Hailey Stuart and adds an accomplished junior golfer in freshman Katie Goodwin who will challenge for the league championship.