For her first three years at Ashland High School, Ginny Cotton had the same goal — make the girls golf state tournament.
But, no matter the year, the light at the end of the tunnel proved to be slightly out of reach.
“I’d mess up at districts every single year the last three years,” Cotton said. “I’ve been in an OK place after the first day and then kind of completely screwed it up the second day so that I’m not even close.”
The goal has been the same now as a senior.
The result ended up being different.
In her final chance to qualify for the OSAA Class 5A state tournament, Cotton’s eighth-place finish at districts was the ticket. Using a big Day 2 rally at the Class 5A Special District 2 meet, Cotton became the first Ashland High girls golfer to qualify for the state tournament in eight years, the last time being when the Grizzlies went as a team in 2010.
“I was really shocked because it’s been my goal since I started golfing as a freshman,” Cotton said of qualifying for this year’s state tournament, which gets underway on Monday at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis. “I was shocked that I actually pulled it off finally and was surprised in myself that I didn’t choke. It’s been really fun having people congratulate me and I feel like I’ve accomplished something that hasn’t been done in a while.”
As much as Cotton has had the good first day, bad second day trend at state in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the better of Cotton’s two scores came on the second round of competition.
After shooting a 96 in the opening day — which might make things look worse than her round actually was based on one really bad hole — Cotton found herself in 12th place, two spots out of the top 10 finish needed to qualify for state.
“After the five-hour round (on the first day), there was really just one hole where she blew up on,” said Aidan Jones, who doubles as both Cotton’s father and the Ashland girls golf team’s head coach. “She took 6-over on one hole and could have chosen just to give up. After the round, she immediately shook it off and was like, ‘Let’s go hit the driving range.’ So, five hours on a course, an hour-and-a-half getting ready to play and she still wanted to keep practicing for the next day.
“The biggest thing was she was in it both days. I never really noticed that she panicked and lost it. This year, when she had the one bad hole, she shook it off where in years past she’d fold and just look at me and be like, ‘I’m done.’ She didn’t say that this time, and that was a pretty amazing thing.”
Cotton improved 10 strokes over her opening-round score to shoot an 86, jumping up four valuable spots into eighth.
As much as the trip to the range after her first round may have helped, a mental reset was also what helped Cotton make one of the biggest individual improvements in the field.
“After the first day I was lying in bed and thinking that I’ve come up short so many times and ‘What if I had shot this?’ or ‘What if I did this on this hole?’” Cotton said. “I was just thinking that I was done with that and I don’t want to have any more stories of how Ginny almost got it. I think it was a mental thing that I hopped into more than anything.”
With a drive of close to four hours back from where districts were held in Bend back home to Ashland, Cotton and Jones left Sunriver Meadows Golf Course before the second round came to a close.
The reaction when she found out she qualified?
Pretty good, as one might expect.
“I actually teared up because I was excited. I was so happy and proud of myself for doing it,” Cotton said. “I tried to get myself to be like, ‘OK, this could be my last day, let’s just have fun,’ and try to be really positive with myself and the people who I was playing with. I didn’t want to get too down on myself because I didn’t want to have a bad last experience even if I didn’t play my best. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Cotton, who first swung a golf club at the age of 12 during a family camping trip, not only knows that her senior season has been extended as long as it could be, but also feels like there’s a huge weight off of her shoulders.
Three years of “almost” are now gone.
She had one last chance to make it — and she delivered.
“Getting to go and see all of the best golfers in the state and have my daughter, my athlete, get to be there and coach her and talk with her between holes, it’s going to be amazing,” Jones said.
Cotton will be part of the first group that takes the course at 7:30 a.m. at Trysting Tree on Monday, an early tee time that she’s more than happy to have.
And now that she’s gotten to state, you better well believe she’s set the bar pretty high for herself.
“I really want to shoot a PR — which would be an 85, but I really want to break 80,” Cotton said. “It would be huge, but I know I have the potential to do it if I stay focused. I want to finish in the top 10. There are goals that I will be on the edge of, but I think if I really push myself, I can do it.”
Personal record or no personal record, Cotton is now able to say she’s achieved something that few Ashland High girls golfers over the last decade can say.
It took until her fourth and final year, but she got it.
“It’s been everything I could have hoped for. Honestly, my senior year has been, I feel like, me getting a lot of wins like this,” said Cotton, who plans to major in biology and enter a pre-physician assistant program at Portland State starting in the fall. “I have two weeks of school left and this is exactly how I want to finish my senior year doing the goal I’ve strived for since I was a freshman.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.