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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Player of the Year, St. Thomas More golfer Alaina Bowie,left, and her mom Tiffany talk about her career after she signed her letter of intent to play golf at Butler at St. Thomas More in Champaign on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Player of the Year, St. Thomas More golfer Alaina Bowie,left, and her mom Tiffany talk about her career after she signed her letter of intent to play golf at Butler at St. Thomas More in Champaign on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.

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CHAMPAIGN — Tiffany Bowie could have guessed her daughter would be the 2019 News-Gazette All-Area girls’ Golfer of the Year.

St. Thomas More senior Alaina Bowie, after all, is a two-time honoree who last month finished a storied prep career by tying for third in the Class 1A state tournament while guiding the Sabers to fifth in the team hunt.

Alaina also is signed to the Butler University women’s program, preparing to take her game to the Division I college level.

So it’d be no stretch of Tiffany’s imagination to assume Alaina would top the local end-of-season leaderboard one last time.

Yet when Alaina’s three-peat Player of the Year status was announced to Tiffany, it garnered a surprising response.

She noted the Bowies don’t hold many conversations about Alaina’s golf prowess — even if it is among the most prolific in area history.

“Numbers show that she’s good, but that doesn’t impress me,” Tiffany said. “I’m more impressed when she has the worst day and maintains composure, or on her best day when I see her stop and help somebody else find their ball.”

Alaina will be remembered as one of the best high school golfers ever to step into a local tee box. Regardless of what she achieves at Butler, and regardless of what she accomplishes after college.

That said, Alaina won’t become what Tiffany describes as Uncle Rico — the “Napoleon Dynamite” film character who constantly lets those around him know about the greatness of his high school athletic years.

“I’ve never talked about it because that was the way I was raised,” Alaina said. “We talked about what you can improve on, and there’s always something you can do better. And that sounds so bad, but it’s true.”

★ ★ ★

The relationship between Alaina, Tiffany and the sport of golf is an intriguing one.

Tiffany isn’t a golfer. She claims stints on any course would result in “Happy Gilmore profanity, anger, rage.”

Alaina’s mother also recognized through her former work in the Illinois Chamber of Commerce how useful a tool golf could be.

“When I started talking to some of the men over the years, they would get invited to ... different groups that have fundraisers,” Tiffany said. “I had been asked multiple times if I wanted to go out and play, and I think it’s a missed opportunity.

“I’m not saying you have to be good at it. I just wanted her to be comfortable with any sport she wanted to play.”

Alaina obviously got more than comfortable, helping STM to four regional championships, two sectional crowns and three top-five Class 1A team state efforts in her time with the Sabers.

But it wasn’t the success that made it easy for Alaina to stick with golf. That was just a byproduct of the numerous other reasons she came to love driving, chipping and putting across Illinois and beyond.

“That was the reason I played, was to help other people find their ball,” Alaina said. “(From Tiffany) it was, ‘Alaina, did you have fun today? Who did you play with today?’ And then I would name some people (like) Molly Stringer from Monticello. And Mom’s like, ‘That must’ve been a great day.’”

“You love playing with her,” Tiffany chimed in. “She’s so fun to play with. You two are always laughing.”

Juxtaposing the fun element is a more relaxing, soothing aspect of golf for Alaina.

“For some reason, when she goes on the course,” Tiffany said, “she says her mind goes quiet.”

★ ★ ★

Those non-result factors explain, then, why Tiffany was nervous about Alaina pursuing college golf.

Despite the scores. Despite the fact colleges large and small appealed to Alaina later in her prep tenure.

There was a realistic chance Alaina just wouldn’t play past high school.

“The intention was never to play college golf. That was never it,” Alaina said. “It was to play maybe when I was older, or to get a club in my hand and then I could drop it.”

From an outside perspective, it’s hard to picture Alaina eschewing golf given all her plaudits.

From the interior, that viewpoint is flipped.

“I can still drop it to this day,” Alaina admitted. “Just realizing that is this new level of freedom that I always remind myself, ‘Alaina, you don’t have to be out here when it’s 40 degrees and raining. This is all on you.’”

So what was the tipping point in Alaina determining the college golf path was hers to travel?

“My concern was if that was Alaina’s happy place, where her mind went free, why would you sell that?” Tiffany said. “But she explained to me that the thrill of competition is something she can’t live without. ... She has to have competition and drive.”

★ ★ ★

Alan Dodds can attest to that point.

The second-year STM girls’ golf coach and his star pupil engaged in an “informal match” at Decatur’s Hickory Point Golf Course just before the 2019 campaign began. It was the location of the Sabers’ first regular-season meet.

Alaina played back on longer tees than she would in prep competition. Dodds started each hole on the men’s tees.

The two found themselves nearly deadlocked approaching the 18th hole.

“It was friendly for 17 1 / 2 holes,” Dodds said, “and then when we realized where we stood.”

Then, Alaina’s competitive nature spilled out.

“I’m standing over a 3-footer (to putt), and she’s like, ‘Coach, if you make this — well, you’re probably not going to,’” Dodds said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Come on. Where’s the love?’”

But Dodds did convert the critical tap.

“I parred the last hole,” Dodds said. “I think I got you by one shot.”

“Wow,” Alaina responded with a grin. “He’s using the flex on me.”

★ ★ ★

Dodds has been around plenty of high school athletes and parents on various golf courses. And he contends he’s never seen a family-golf dynamic quite like what the Bowies possess.

“The difference ... is not getting into the details of golf,” Dodds said, “and so it feels unconditional whether she’s playing well or she’s playing poorly. The sport’s the same, and it’s not second-guessing the technical parts of the game.”

It’s easy to know Dodds isn’t exaggerating when Tiffany pulls up a photo gallery on her phone.

Not filled with images of Alaina holding one of her clubs. Instead, filled with images of something else it’s easy to find on a golf course.

“This is what he’s talking about,” Tiffany said. “I take pictures of bark on trees while Alaina’s golfing.”

Alaina doesn’t react to this with frustration or disgust. Far from it.

“It wasn’t, ‘What’d you shoot? What’d you get? Par, bogey?’ She didn’t care,” Alaina said. “That was OK with me. It was an escape to talk more about emotions, because that’s what golf is.”

★ ★ ★

16th News-Gazette All-Area girls’ golf team

Ample emotions are associated with a kid finding the right college for them. Even more so when playing a sport at that school also is on the table.

The Bowies recognized that, but also brought a highly analytical element to Alaina’s search. They started with a list of more than 800 colleges from which to choose, highlighting any institution in the United States that carried women’s golf.

The early stages of this process weren’t easy on Alaina. She insisted on conversing with any coach who took the time to reach out to her first. Past that, there was much work required to narrow down her list.

“People see this figure of online perfection in every school,” Alaina said. “How are you supposed to compare a school that looks 10 out of 10 to another school that looks 10 out of 10?”

Tiffany had an idea.

“This happened multiple times,” Alaina said. “We were on the edge of campus, and she slows down the car. I don’t even know if it was stopped or in park, and she’s like, ‘Get out of the car.’ And I’m like, ‘Mom, we’re on the edge of campus. We’re supposed to be driving to this building. I have the map here in my hands.’

“She’s like, ‘Get out of the car and find it. I’ll meet you there.’ ... If I wasn’t comfortable walking to the three blocks it was away, then why would I go to school there?”

Indianapolis-based Butler is a small, private school with roughly 5,000 total students, situated about two hours from the Bowies’ Mahomet home.

Alaina said after her verbal commitment earlier this year that the Bulldogs staff’s willingness to let her college experience be about more than golf piqued her interest. Tiffany believes campus size also played a role.

“She’d remind me, ‘Alaina, it’s not about finding the perfect school. It’s about finding a school that fits for you,’” Alaina said. “So that made me feel better.”

The way Alaina’s college recruitment played out is a microcosm of how family has affected her time in golf.

It’s hard for Alaina even to consider a hypothetical in which her family isn’t involved in her day-to-day life. And just how different her future could look.

“The constant level of support, sometimes I don’t always feel like I need it because I’m a teenager and I want to do stuff on my own,” Alaina said. “But then they’re always there to pick me up, and I can’t imagine life without them.”

Honor roll

Past News-Gazette All-Area girls’ Golfers of the Year

YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL

2019 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More

2018 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More

2017 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More

2016 Mia Hayasaki Champaign Central

2015 Mia Hayasaki Champaign Central

2014 Emily Trolia Mahomet-Seymour

2013 Courtney LaFoe Salt Fork

2012 Brooklyn Hildreth Mahomet-Seymour

2011 Sierra Myerscough St. Thomas More

2010 Lizzy Dombroski Centennial

2009 Lizzy Dombroski Centennial

2008 Katie Jean St. Thomas More

2007 Katie Jean St. Thomas More

2006 Jenna Dombroski Centennial

2005 Kim Bailey GCMS

2004 Kim Bailey GCMS

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).