ST. CLAIRSVILLE — It doesn’t matter what it is. The first person to accomplish or do something in history is always remembered.
Such is the case for St. Clairsville freshman Olivia Baker.
The talented Red Devil — just one week ago — etched her name into the illustrious history of St. Clairsville High School Athletics when she became the first female to qualify for the OHSAA State Golf Championship.
“When you think about being the first from (St. Clairsville) to reach the state tournament, it’s really pretty amazing,” Baker said earlier this week before she set out for a practice round at Belmont Hills Country Club. “To be able to experience (the state tournament) is really going to be a cool experience.”
Not bad for a kid who at one point in her life told her dad (Ron), who is the PGA Golf Professional at Belmont Hills Country Club, that she thought golf was “the most stupid sport ever.”
“I didn’t like golf at all when I first started (playing),” Baker said. “I first picked up a club in like first or second grade, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago when I really started to take it seriously. My dad kept telling me ‘you have potential’ and he kept pushing me to try it and now I am definitely glad he did because (playing golf) is definitely a decision I’ll never regret.”
Baker’s experience actually begins today at the Gray Course at the Ohio State University Golf Club when she gets her first true look at the par 71 course, which measures almost 5,800 yards.
The 36-hole tournament formally begins on Friday and concludes on Saturday.
For Baker, that will be her first look at the course outside of what information she’s been able to gather online this week.
“Going into a course blind is tough,” Baker said. “You have to be aware of your surroundings and make sure you pay close attention to the hole locations to be able to map out your approach and knowing what to hit both on the tee and from the fairway.”
Baker is in the last group to go off No. 1 at 10:50 am She’s playing with Emma Kim from the Columbus School for Girls and Mati Zines of Hanoverton United.
“Being around new people and playing with and against people I’ve not played against before is going to be awesome,” Baker said.
Baker earned the right to compete this week by virtue of being the runner-up medalist at the Eastern District Tournament held last week at the Cambridge Country Club. Baker fired a round of 77. With the OHSAA now using live scoring during the post-season events, which Baker admitted to liking, it caused some significant nerves as she played the final few holes.
“My nerves were everywhere (at the district),” Baker said. “I made a bunch of mistakes (during the round) that obviously if I avoided would have made my (score) much better, but I am definitely proud of how I played and accomplished.”
During the course of the season, Baker played with the Red Devils’ boys team and was a key scorer on their OVAC and Buckeye 8 title-winning teams. However, the OHSAA only allows players to take part in one post-season event, so Baker played in the girls’ tournament, giving her the best chance to advance.
“Playing with the boys really helped me out a lot,” Baker admitted. “Playing with them made me play under pressure because you want to keep up with them and they obviously hit the ball farther and some are a lot better. It gets to the point where you just want to beat them.”
While playing with the boys, Baker was medalist in a pair of nine-hole matches in August. Since then and prior to last week, Baker’s season has been “full of ups and downs.”
“There was a point when I was shooting some really bad scores and then I started shooting some good scores,” Baker recalled. “It’s definitely good to be playing my best rounds now.”
It actually got to the point for Baker where she would have never believed qualifying for the state was ever going to be a possibility.
“If someone had told me I would be here now, I would have thought they were joking or not telling the truth,” Baker said. “I wouldn’t have believed it in August and maybe not even the morning of the district, so it’s definitely a ‘wow! I can’t believe I accomplished it’ kind of moment.”
Obviously, comparing courses leading up to the state is a challenge, but Baker’s round of 77 last week is one of the top scores posted in the Division II district level. Still, though, Baker isn’t putting pressure on herself by thinking about a place.
“I am approaching this as going for the experience,” Baker said. “I am not focused on winning or playing. I want to play well, but I am trying to enjoy the experience and hopefully make it back next year and knowing a little more about it and what to expect.”