STM's Bowie has got the drive

STM's Bowie has got the drive

CHAMPAIGN — Alaina Bowie sat back in her chair and considered the question, as she is prone to do.

When did she realize she was a good golfer?

"I guess sometimes I still don't know if I am," the St. Thomas More sophomore said. "I guess it depends on who you're comparing yourself to, right?"

Compared to area golfers she's historically elite. No area girl this decade has come close to Bowie's 36.0 average this season. Her third-place finish in Class 1A came off of rounds that were far from her best this season, but the performance was more than good enough for the sophomore to earn The News-Gazette's Player of the Year honors.

Bowie easily could have raised her standards sky-high after the first meet of the season, when she shot a 64, which is two strokes better than the state meet record. And in the back of her mind, she admits she did.

But Bowie didn't speak of someday shooting in the 50s like her coach does, and she didn't expect to shoot under par every round. It's that attitude, she thinks, that made her year the special one that it was.

"I want to say I've matured in my golf game knowing that golf is so hard that after you get to a certain point, it's hard to get lower than that," Bowie said. "In past years, even last year, my goal was to go out and do my best every time, and this year it was just to be consistent and be where I wanted to be when I set my goals for the beginning of the year.

"I blew it out of the water in the first match and then again later on in the season, which was crazy to me. But I kept my goals in mind, and I wanted goals that were achievable, so I could be happy with my golf game at the end of the year."

Bowie's game is so prodigious that it can be easy to get carried away with the possibilities. After all, power conference colleges are already interested in the sophomore who can drive the ball around 300 yards. She complements that with maturity beyond her years and a dogged work ethic.

"She's motivated all the time," STM coach Pat Hettermann said. "She always wants to improve. I don't have to say, 'Hey, you've got to shoot this today.' That all comes internally. She wants to be the best she can be.

"I think she could end up playing at a professional level if she chooses to do that," Hettermann added.

Had it not been for a chance meeting with Hettermann when Bowie was in the sixth grade, though, her grandfather, Bob Cook, doesn't think his granddaughter and him would have pursued the sport.

"Boy, I don't think I would've at all," Cook said. "I don't know, but I don't think so. That's a late development developing in the sixth grade. It was strange, bizarre. Sometimes things are meant to be and God gives you talents for a reason. It's quite incredible."

'Stuck with my goal'

Cook admits he's not a good golfer. In fact, no member of the Bowie family outside Alaina is particularly good at the sport. But over the offseason, no one spends more time with Alaina at driving ranges and golf courses, even if his only contributions come as a caddy.

"People ask me, 'What have you done to teach her?' " he said. "I haven't taught her anything except to keep her driving in the right direction and to keep going, but she's quite a young lady and quite an outstanding athlete."

Originally, Tiffany Bowie simply wanted to introduce the sport to her sixth-grade daughter, who played several sports, including baseball and basketball, as a life skill.

"I wanted her to be good enough that if she was in corporate America, and they were looking for a fourth person for a round of golf, she would be comfortable doing it," Tiffany Bowie said, "and I was just hoping someday she could break 100."

That's when the serendipitous meeting happened.

Hettermann was working at the bar at Stone Creek Country Club when Cook, who doesn't have a country club membership but was there for lunch, began talking with STM's coach. Hettermann mentioned to Cook that she had taught her granddaughters the sport, and Cook mentioned that he had a granddaughter who was interested in taking it up.

After investigating Hettermann's credentials, he asked if she'd be interested in teaching Alaina, to which Hettermann answered in the affirmative.

Cook didn't know how to identify his granddaughter's talent. Sure, he saw the power, but at that point, the 150-yard drives were going every which way.

The deficiencies, though, were highly correctable.

Bowie progressed through the youth golfing ranks until she reached high school, where she joined Hettermann at STM and shot a 39.7 nine-hole average as a freshman, just a tenth of a point behind the area leader.

This year, she exploded, shooting a 64 the first meet of the year and a 68 at the Okaw Valley Conference meet. Her head and her expectations, though, didn't blow up.

"Through my family and friends that are around me and my coaches," Bowie said. "I knew that even the professionals don't shoot their best every day. But I stuck with my goal, and I stuck with it and wasn't too upset if I didn't hit my goal every time."

'Love every moment'

One large number sticks out on Bowie's scorecard from the state meet, but she doesn't remember the seven she shot on the eighth hole on the second day in a round in which she shot a 78 to bring her two-day total to 157.

For Bowie, a satisfactory hole has nothing to do with the score. It has to do with the crack of the ball against the club, the intelligent approach and sound judgment.

"I guess I'm one of those players where I could have a par on every hole, but if every shot isn't as perfect as I want it to be, I don't feel good about it," she said. "I don't know if that's how other players work, but to me it's a lot about the feel of the club and everything like that, all of the technical stuff. So I guess looking back maybe, instead of the number leading me back to the memory of the hole, it's the other way around."

In the end, she expressed disappointment to her mother when the meet was over, not because Alaina achieved a lower individual finish than she hoped, but because her team was a stroke away from bringing home a third-place trophy.

"She looked at me and said, 'Mom, if I would have shot one (stroke) better, I could have gotten a trophy for Mrs. Hettermann,'" Tiffany Bowie said. "I just thought, 'She doesn't even care how well she placed. She doesn't want to disappoint people.' "

Despite her humble attitude, it doesn't bother Bowie that Hettermann has outsized expectations for her prized pupil.

"I always laugh at her when she says that (she's going to shoot a round in the 50s), because she has really high expectations for me, but it comes with a positive vibe," Alaina Bowie said. "It's never negative. It's not, 'Well, if you don't do this, you're not successful.' It's that kind of thing where, if I do accomplish it, it's crazy. She has kind of out-of-the-park goals. First, she said I was going to shoot in the 60s. Now, she says I'm going to shoot in the 50s. I love the woman to death, and she's a little crazy sometimes, but I think her throwing out there, 'You could do it, you do have the skills to do it,' helps me to want to be better."

Tiffany Bowie frequently asks her daughter the same question. After all, she's never cared much about the score her daughter is shooting, or the scholarship offers that will surely come in droves over the next few years, if not the next few months.

"Are you having fun?" she'll query after Alaina comes home from practice or a meet.

That question always reminds Alaina of the reason she golfs. She's driven to be the best, but that's not the reason she's out on the course. It's the feeling it gives her.

"Every time I go out there, I feel the same thing," Alaina said. "My mind goes quiet. I can't hear anything except for my own thoughts and the song I'm singing in my head. And although I might be having an awful day, I remember I'm the one out there doing each stroke, each drive, each putt.

"(My mom) always makes sure that I love the game, and I always respond with, 'Yeah, it was peaceful out there,' or, 'It was quiet.' I always love every moment that I'm out there. I might not love every shot or every score, but I love every moment."