NASHVILLE — The sports of speedskating and golf might seem like polar opposites, but one local girl has made the transition rather seamlessly.
Not liking the longshot odds she faced to make the Olympics as a speedskater, Emma Bawinkel turned to a far less intense activity. The fact that she can play golf deep into her adult life played a big role in the Brown County junior’s decision to give that sport a try.
“It’s such a narrow path to go on speedskating,” said Bawinkel, who trained at Hamilton Center Ice Arena in Columbus. “It was kind of an iffy sport, and I wanted a sport that would stick with me for a long time. I picked up golf and really started to love it.”
The Eagles are glad she did. Although Bawinkel picked up a club for the first time just 16 months ago, she has set the school’s individual nine- and 18-hole school records and led the team to nine- and 18-hole school records this season.
In her first season of golf last fall, Bawinkel’s best scores were 48 for nine holes and 98 for 18. She’s lowered those to 41 and 94, while improving her average from 53.5 to 46.0.
Bawinkel has done even better in practice, shooting as low as 40 on front nine at Salt Creek, where Brown County plays its home matches, and 36 on back nine. She carded a 93 at Foxcliff in Martinsville in her final tournament this summer.
“I was out almost every single day practicing as much as I could,” Bawinkel said. “At the beginning, it was kind of iffy, but I feel like I’m doing a lot better than I used to.”
Eagles coach Brad Baughman saw the potential in Bawinkel last season.
“We didn’t know how much she would devote herself to the game,” Baughman said. “Since last year ended, Emma really got involved. She’s out here (at Salt Creek) as often as she can be out here. She’s dedicated, even in bad weather.
“She’s passionate about the game,” he said. “She’s found something she likes, and she’s driven. She’s self-motivated, and she works on her game and it’s showing. It’s paying off this year. We’re seeing the fruits of her labor.”
The Brown County team also is reaping the benefits of Bawinkel’s and other girls’ lower scores. The Eagles carded a 420 in the Western Indiana Conference Tournament at Idle Creek in Terre Haute and a 195 in last week’s dual-match win against Owen Valley at Salt Creek.
“It was awesome for our whole team to break that record,” Bawinkel said. “We all came together and and a great job, so I was happy about that.”
The team records Brown County has set this year are 20 and 30 shots better for nine and 18 holes, respectively, than its best scores last season. The Eagles WIC tourney score was 72 shots better than in last year’s conference event on the same course.
“We thought that this could be a good year for us to build and to move forward, and it certainly has been,” Baughman said. “Some of our scores last year were disappointing. We weren’t as competitive. We are certainly more competitive than we used to be.
“The numbers that we’re posting now are good,” he said. “They’re not going to raise a lot of eyebrows maybe in the area in terms of top-notch teams, but for a program only in it’s fourth year, and for girls that are only in their second or third year of having a golf club in their hand, I think we’ve brought our numbers down considerably, and it’s certainly gratifying to see that they’re getting the basics and that some of our hard work has paid off.”
Brown County will next play in the Bloomington North Sectional on Monday at Cascades. Only the top three teams advance to regional, and with co-No. 18 Bloomington South, Bloomington North and Martinsville in the field, the Eagles’ chances of making it as a team are slim.
But Bawinkel has an excellent chance to qualify as an individual. She came within two shots of making it to regional last season.
“My goal is to make it to regional with the lowest number possible,” Bawinkel said. “I just want to keep breaking my own records. That’s kind of the point of golf for me. I like to see how far I can go with it.”
Bawinkel, who would like to play golf in college, sometimes wonders how good she might be now if she had picked up the game at an earlier age.
“Then maybe I could have had some things more grounded in me by this time,” Bawinkel said. “But the better you get, it depends on how many balls you hit; not how many years you’ve been doing it. It depends on how much you dedicate yourself to the game.”
Golf sectionals involving local teams:
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Greensburg Country Club
Local teams: Columbus East, Columbus North, South Decatur
Bedford North Lawrence Sectional
When: 8 a.m. Saturday
Where: Otis Park Golf Course
Local teams: Seymour, Trinity Lutheran
When: 11:30 a.m. Saturday
Where: Sunrise Golf Course
Local teams: Jennings County
Bloomington North Sectional
When: 8:30 a.m. Monday
Where: Cascades Golf Course
Local teams: Brown County, Edinburgh