By Ryan Divish
Golf can be played your entire life. But high school golf lasts only four years. For five seniors on the Havre High golf team this weekend's meet in Shelby will be the last time they tee it up as a member of the Ponies.
Three girls and two boys, an eclectic mix of individuals who hope that their last tournament is obviously their best.
It would be easy to start with boys first. After all, people always tend to start with the boys first. The shadow of success from the boys program looms large and grows larger each year. For the girls it can be difficult to crawl out of. However, it isn't for lack of personality.
Heather Bowker, Ryan Hamilton and Mikyla Veis couldn't be more different as individuals. But get them together in a room, and they're finishing each others sentences. It is the typical mixture of giggles and laughter from inside jokes they only know about.
Bowker has been a part of the golf program for all four years of high school. Her golf game wasn't pretty at first, but she improved every year making the varsity last year.
"I definitely got better," Bowker said. "Quite a bit better."
Hamilton is playing her first year of competitive golf. Despite it being her first year, she is playing as the team's number one in the state tournament. But if it wasn't for the season switch and golf was still in the spring, Hamilton would still be on the tennis courts rather than golf course.
"I'm a better tennis player," Hamilton said. "If I would've been playing golf since freshman year, I would have some potential. I still like tennis better."
Veis has come back to the team this year after taking last season off. After playing varsity as a sophomore and playing in the state tournament, Veis decided to not play last spring, instead taking part in HHS's spring production of "The Foreigners."
"I really enjoy (theater) more than anything I've ever done," Veis said. "It runs in my family. My mom's really good and she got me into it."
But where does golf fit in all of this? The girls are the first to admit that they aren't as intense as the boys team. Few people are. But don't count out their competitive spirit.
"We want to prove to people that we can actually golf," Veis said. "We have faith in each other. If we all play are absolute best, we could even beat Dillon."
And no time would be better than the state meet.
"I think we definitely play better under pressure," Bowker said. "Divisionals was by far our best meet of the year."
The girls will be in for a tough battle taking on defending state champion Dillon, playing through terrible weather and battling unfitting uniforms. Unfitting uniforms? Yes, it seems the biggest problem playing in the bad weather isn't the cold. It's their cold weather gear. A bit big would be an understatement.
"We're all smalls," Bowker said. "That stuff is huge. It's tough to play in."
Said Hamilton: "Some of it would be too big on Trent (Normandy)."
Regardless, it's part of their uniform and they have to wear it. But that doesn't mean they won't have an opinion about it.
Ask them about the best part of the season, and they all agree it would be the hotel when they congregate with teammates Amanda Brock and Brittany Job in one hotel room to talk.
"It's quite lively," Hamilton said. "We really get along well."
As for future plans, they are like their personalities, different.
Bowker will head to Montana State University-Billings to study business administration. She isn't looking to conquer the business world. She just wants to be a boss, any boss.
Hamilton is looking to head out of state, maybe Stanford. She hopes to study politics. But don't plan to vote for a Senator Hamilton 15 years down the road. She has no aspirations for public office. She would rather be working on the policy for the politicians instead.
Veis is looking at studying theater or maybe writing at the University of Montana. She likes the creative aspect and the School of Arts at UM.
If it seems like Jon Johnstone and Eric Ward have been waiting for this state tournament for the entire high school career, it's because they have.
Golf is a game of many characteristics, patience being one of them, but the two senior boys have taken it to a new level.
Both Johnstone and Ward have patiently waited their turn to get to the varsity level and play at a state tournament. Johnstone, a fixture at Beaver Creek Golf Course during the summer, was like a minor league baseball player. He had a few "cups of coffee" with the varsity, but he never stayed on there. Ward took a little different path. He started out raw as a freshman, fighting through a nasty hook and slowly getting his game stronger each year. But it didn't make waiting any less difficult.
"It was kind of tough," Ward said of waiting. "You try so hard and you still know there are so many kids that have played longer than you and are better than you. I kind of knew it would take this long to get to this level."
Ward almost never got to this level. Both Johnstone and Ward played football last fall and with the switch both had to make a decision as to what sport they would play this fall. For Johnstone, it was an easy decision. He had knee surgery last season and didn't want to reinjure it again. Plus his golf game was strong this summer and it would be much easier to carry it into a fall season.
"I had the whole summer to work on my swing," Johnstone said. "I think my swing and my course management are better because of it."
For Ward, the decision wasn't quite so easy. He liked both sports. Football for its contact and golf for its lack there of.
"It took me all summer to decide," Ward said. "It came down to about the last possible moment. I looked at both the schedules and saw all the different courses we'd be playing and I chose golf."
But golf isn't completely an individual sport. There is a team element involved, like football, and it couldn't be more true of this year's squad. Indeed, the players and their fathers have been making weekly trips to Shelby to prepare for state. And they are constantly helping each other get better.
"We all like each other," Johnstone said. "We play every night together and we've become pretty good friends."
And nothing would be sweeter to the team, than making it a "three-peat" for the state championship.
"I think we can win it," Johnstone said. "I think we have a great shot. We have the depth and if everybody plays the way they are capable, we can win it."
Johnstone, a veteran of numerous summer tournaments, exudes confidence about the final tournament. Ward is different story.
"I'm pretty nervous," Ward said. "I haven't played in anything like this before."
No matter the outcome, Ward and Johnstone readily admit that their first and only full varsity season has gone by a little too fast and life after high school will upon them.
It won't be a life without golf for Johnstone. You can't get him off the course. And he hopes that continues in college where he would study environmental engineering and landscape architecture to build and design his own golf courses.
"I'd really like to try and play golf somewhere," Johnstone said. "Or maybe play hockey for a school, if not golf. "
Ward is taking a different path. One that would still be lucrative.
"I'm looking into pharmacy," Ward said. "Most likely at the University of Montana."
Five seniors so different, yet so much the same. In less than a week, their high school golf careers will be over, but their lives will just be beginning.