Season Preview: Girls Golf
Unlike sports such as basketball or football that hold camps all summer, golfers generally have to take it upon themselves to sharpen their skills in the offseason.
It's a concept that West Fargo girls golf coach Dan Wolf counts on, but understands is difficult for all his players to accomplish.
"You rely on the fire that individuals have to work on their game and get better," he said. "But by the same token that we have a very limited time to golf during the year, they also have very limited time to go to the lakes or work a job.
"You hope all the girls find time to at least get out there a few times to play."
Though Wolf said he knows of at least three girls who were active this summer, one in particular has taken her game to an entirely different level.
Ashley Bixby has been a force to be reckoned with. The incoming freshman was a regular on the Minnesota PGA Junior tour, competing against some of the best golfers in Minnesota and North Dakota.
"She is an extremely hard worker. She definitely has the game to be the No. 1 player," Wolf said.
In more than a dozen tournaments from June through the beginning of August, Bixby finished no lower than fourth place. She took first place four times in her last five tournaments before the Players' Cup on Monday in Osakis, Minn. Results were not in by press time.
She also took top honors and was named Junior All-City for winning a tournament in Fargo in early July.
Quite an accomplishment for a girl who only has played golf for "a couple of years," and got her start on a whim.
"One day, my dad was going to the driving range, because he's always loved golf," she said. "It was kind of funny, because my dad was in front of me."
That's when Bixby started swinging.
"All of a sudden, there was someone cranking out balls, and (my dad) looked back and thought it was the guy behind me," she said.
"We got home and he told my mom, 'We should have gotten her clubs yesterday.' "
Her prowess on the links was reflected earlier still. As an eighth grader, Bixby led the Packers with a 92.4 stroke average (No. 10 in the Eastern Dakota Conference) and was named to both All-Conference and All-EDC tournament teams. The Packers finished seventh at the East Region and State tournaments.
With a banner rookie season and a solid follow-up in the summer, Bixby stands to lead West Fargo once again this season.
"I think last year, it was a lot for her to be on varsity and kind of move into that No. 1 spot as an eighth-grader," Wolf said. "That will help her out this year. Nerves won't be an issue because she has a lot of experiences to draw on."
Wolf also is looking forward for other players to rise to the top and fill the void of graduated seniors Mara Johnson and Samantha Pyle.
"Both had played every varsity tournament since they were sophomores," Wolf said. "When you lose players like that, it's hard to just plug players in."
Incoming sophomore Lexi Lennon was No. 3 on the shot chart last year with a 98.4 average, and once more stands to add some needed firepower. Another top returner is Lauren Johnson, who finished with a 108.4 stroke average.
Other golfers such as Lexie Wasem, Chelsey Buth, Claire Eidenschink and Haley Johnson could vie for starting positions, but Wolf said only time will tell who has the gumption to work for the spots.
"It will be an interesting learning time for us," he said.
In any case, the Packers' aim this year is the same as every year.
"We want to be peaking as we get to the end of the year," Wolf said. "Qualifying for state is always the goal."