This season didn’t start how Jessica Hawks wanted it to.
First, unruly weather kept her and area golfers from hitting the course for several weeks.
And then once she did, her game was not where she wanted it to be.
The ending will be quite a bit different.
The Pierz junior saved her best golf for the Section 6AA tournament in Sartell, Monday – Tuesday, avoiding a playoff by one stroke and advancing on to state with a fifth-place finish.
“I was astonished when I found out that I qualified to advance to state,” Hawks said. “It’s hard to imagine that at the beginning of the season I was shooting in the 50s, but here I am now on my way to state. Even now it’s hard to believe how far I have come – hard work truly does pay off.”
Hawks’ work at sections began with a solid first-round score of 88 in difficult conditions, not only good enough to reach the second day of the tournament, but to be in contention.
“Jessica played extremely well on Monday,” Pierz head coach Jessica LeBlanc said. “She hit many fairways and many greens in regulation. I feel like she hit the ball better on Monday, but putted better on Tuesday. Every stroke was important.”
Even so, Hawks did her best to not look at where she sat in the standings, but to just focus on her game.
“I did not pay a lot of attention to what other golfers were doing,” Hawks said. “I was more focused on myself – staying positive and making every stroke count. It’s hard not to compare myself to other golfers, though. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am my only competitor, I can only do my best.”
That proved to be exceptional throughout the tournament, as Hawks more than made up for a few mistakes with some crafty play.
“Even though I had a couple interesting holes, I felt I played very well,” Hawks said. “I had some amazing shots, which I will never forget, as well as some pretty bad misses which I’m hoping I’ll forget about soon.”
With a second-day surge across the leaderboard, Hawks entered the clubhouse with an 84, then waited to see where that would place her.
It turned out, it put her in the state field, one shot out of a three-way playoff for the final two state slots with an overall total of 172.
“There was definitely a sigh of relief when I was informed I did not have to play in the playoff,” Hawks said. “It’s amazing how one stroke can make all the difference, which is something I will certainly keep in mind at state.”
The top five golfers not on the qualifying team advanced to state.
Also competing for the Pioneers on the first day of the tournament were freshmen Brittany Talberg (116) and BreAnna Hopkins (125), junior Sam Smith (125), sophomore Kayla Wacker (135) and junior Isabelle Kohl (141).
With Hawks’ state-worthy performance, there’s now no doubt that any lingering frustration from the season’s uneven start has been washed away.
“I think that Jessica was a little disappointed with the beginning of the season,” LeBlanc said. “She really worked hard at revamping her swing during the offseason. Because of the way the season worked out, we got outside for about an hour before our first meet and had very few practices during the first couple weeks of the season because of the weather.
“The playing conditions were not favorable until our last conference meet of the season. Her goal from the beginning of the year was to get to this point, and for that reason I would say her season was a success.”
A big part of the reason for that was the work Hawks put into her swing.
While any changes can be risky, it ultimately paid big dividends.
“Jessica’s swing has really improved throughout the year,” LeBlanc said. “She has been striking the ball better than she has all year. She has worked very hard during practice and on her own time. She has put the time in and she earned her way to the state tournament.
“I was expecting her to make it to the second day, but after I saw the way she was hitting the ball, I knew she had a great chance to make it to state,” she said.
Unlike during the regular season, when most meets were only nine holes, often with a couple days in between, the section meet offers a unique challenge with 18 holes on back-to-back days.
Something, her coach thinks, worked in favor of Hawks as a consistent, mentally tough competitor.
“I think it plays into Jessica’s favor because she is so calm and collected while golfing,” LeBlanc said. “She doesn’t let bad shots or holes get to her. When she has a hole she is not happy with, she is able to forget about it.
“We have talked about focusing on one shot at a time and not trying to make up for a bad hole or shot,” she said. “You can’t do anything about the shots you have already made and you can’t do anything about the shots you will make, you can only focus on the shot you are making right now. This is the part of her game that has really improved.”
Hawks now heads to the Class AA state meet, held Tuesday – Wednesday at Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.
“I’m really looking forward to the state tournament, hoping to shoot a personal best,” Hawks said. “Although I am nervous, I know I have nothing to lose as long as I give it my all and do my best.”
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