Girls golf: Consistency keys Stevenson's success
Sometimes, golf plays like a broken record.
Joyce Bai kept spinning golf balls off Crane's Landing's first tee on the first day of Stevenson tryouts her freshman year three years ago. She kept hooking them out of bounds to the left. Four times in a row. Consistency ... at its worst.
She settled for a mercy 10, or "Circle 10" as the Patriots call it, a self-made team rule for practice rounds to speed up play.
"I'm proud of myself," Bai said, "because I did not cry.
"Thank God for the 'Circle 10' rule."
Bai's high school golf career may have gotten off to an inauspicious start on that first hole on that first day of tryouts, but the high numbers didn't last.
"She ended up coming in with a 45 (for nine holes)," Stevenson coach Emma Degen said. "I was like, 'OK, this girl's got some game.' "
Unlike a broken record, Bai's golf game doesn't stutter.
"Joyce," junior teammate Sophia Zhuang said, "has always been consistent. She's never shot in the 90s. I played with her both days at tryouts. If she shoots a double, she gets a birdie or a par on the next hole."
Bai established herself as the varsity's No. 1 player her freshman year, qualified for sectionals and helped lead the Patriots downstate each of the last two falls. After finishing 12th in the state two years ago, Stevenson placed fifth in Class AA last year. The Patriots' depth has improved each season since Bai's arrival, and they are loaded again this season in their quest to capture a third-straight North Suburban Conference championship.
They opened the 2019 season Friday by winning the Prep Tour invite, shooting a 310 on the state-tournament course, Hickory Point Golf Club in Decatur. Bai finished seventh with a 76. Kelly Dong, Julia Yoo and Allie Santos carded 78s, Zhuang had an 80, and Faith Wang shot an 83.
All but Santos, a freshman, teed it up a state last year for the Patriots. Another freshman, Jessica Velent, also has talent to crack the varsity. And the Patriots played without sophomore Emily Duan (IJGA tournament), who last year tied for seventh at state. Bai tied for 25th at state, while Zhuang finished in a tie for 27th.
"We've all talked about it already," said Dong, who as a freshman last year placed second to Duan in the NSC meet and tied for 38th at state. "Last year we already knew that some (freshmen) were coming. Even though we love the six of us (returning players) and the dynamic of our team, we still want the best for our team."
Bai and Yoo are the only senior starters. Not that either feels the need to "step up." Not with this group.
"I don't feel like I have to push myself to be a leader," Yoo said. "I feel like we all take care of each other, and we all like to mentor each other. I just want to take senior year a little more chill. It's my last year with this team, and I want to enjoy it."
The Patriots all look up to Bai and not because she stands 5 feet 9 and bombs the ball off the tee. Her work ethic helps explain her success, which also includes being medalist at the NSC tournament as a sophomore.
"When I was younger, my mom worked near Deerfield Golf Course, and she'd drop me off at 8 (a.m.) and pick me up at 5 (p.m.)," Bai said. "I'd spend all day at the golf course. I was a freshman. I had no car. I was just stranded at the golf course all day."
Degen knows she can count on all of her golfers, who are all A students.
"It's definitely one of our goals to place top three in state," said Wang, a junior. "Hopefully win. We'll see. Our team has definitely improved with Allie (Santos), and there are other freshmen that are really good too."
It's not, however, state or bust for the Patriots.
"That's not how they roll," Degen said with a laugh. "Last year we didn't have as many expectations, and obviously now we have some expectations on us. We're going to try to downplay that as much as possible so we can focus on the right here right now."