Two lost varsity golf seasons motivated Jaycee Rhodes for a strong comeback.
Transferring from Visitation, a Mendota Heights private school, to Eastview made her ineligible for varsity competition as a junior. She lost her senior season when distance learning brought on by COVID-19 meant the canceling of spring sports.
“That hurt deep down because golf is my sport,” said Rhodes, whose last varsity competition was in the 2018 Class 2A state championships. She tied for 14th as a then-sophomore at Visitation.
Despite bogeys on her first two holes, Rhodes rallied to win the Minnesota PGA Senior Showcase on Wednesday at Bunker Hills Golf Club in Coon Rapids.
“To have this opportunity was awesome,” said Rhodes, who shot an even-par 72 and will play golf at St. Catherine University in St. Paul. “These are the girls I’ve been playing against my entire life and I wanted to show what I’ve been working on all winter long.”
The soggy remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal threatened to carry on what coronavirus started and give the 69 seniors who signed up another kick in the shin. But overnight rains didn’t spoil Day 2 of the inaugural event; boys competed the first day.
“I was so scared it was going to get canceled,” said Catherine Monty of Stillwater, who tied for second with a 73. “It was a little windy today, but I’m glad the weather worked out.”
Monty, who will play golf at North Dakota State, shared the runner-up spot with Wayzata’s Amy Burnham. Having fewer opportunities to compete this spring wasn’t all bad for Burnham, who will play at Concordia (St. Paul). She practiced and played a few recent rounds with older sister Sarah, a pro on the LPGA tour.
“I got to break down my swing a lot and really focus on chipping and putting,” Burnham said. “That definitely helped me today because I had so many saves.”
Remaining in compliance with state health guidelines meant no fans, no handshakes or hugs at the Senior Showcase. Players used pin ball retrievers instead of removing the flags on the greens. But players noted the opportunities offered by departing from the norm.
High school golf teams compete for state titles in three classes. The Senior Showcase blended competitors representing schools of all sizes.
One of the groups featured Makayla Snow of BOLD playing alongside Aayushi Sarkar of Woodbury. Both took sixth place at the state championships last spring, Snow in Class 1A and Sarkar in 3A.
“That’s one of the things that was really fun about this,” Snow said. “I got to meet some of these girls and get new competition. It was a lot of pressure to play girls from Class 3A who shoot way better than I do, but it was fun, too.”
Minnesota PGA Chief Executive Officer JD Drimel said his group will do “everything possible to hold this event in the future” but said keeping it at Bunker Hills, site of the Minnesota State High School League’s Class 3A championship, could be a challenge.
“We will be looking at venues because the response from players has been off the charts,” Drimel said. “I watched a group tee off on the first hole as complete strangers. But when I saw them around the fifth or sixth hole, they were laughing and having fun. And boy, do we need more of that right now.”
Snow, who placed 55th, carded the best score for BOLD last year as the program won its second Class 1A title in three seasons. Not bad considering she almost quit golf as a freshman.
Her first love is volleyball, which she will play at Northern State in Aberdeen, S.D., this fall. But she didn’t leave golf. And the sport brought her much joy, right up to Wednesday’s bittersweet finale.
“My high school career is officially over now,” Snow said. “This is the last last.”