Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
She scours the photograph in her family's living room, her dark eyes hunting for clues.
The picture is of a young girl clutching a golf club at a sunny driving range. She's looking back, smiling at the cameraman and preparing to swing.
"I can't believe I was 4," Sunshine Powers says.
Nearby, Bob Powers rests alone in his room, listening to his daughter share her memories. The photo his 18-year-old daughter holds is from the family's years in Huntington Beach, Calif., where Bob — a recreational golfer — realized early on that his youngest daughter would never need his advice.
"The first time I saw her swing, I knew right then that she was too good for me to teach her anything," he says.
Sunshine — a senior golfer at North Medford High and one of the program's most dominant all-time golfers — and her older sister, Snow, can be found everywhere inside the Powers home. Their names are on golf trophies. Their faces are in the picture frames and team posters. Their childhood is captured at every stage.
But Bob? He's a rare photographic find. The thoughtful 55-year-old wouldn't have it any other way. Last December, he learned he had cancer. So now, Bob works behind the scenes: from a laptop, conserving his energy, picking his moments.
On a good day, he'll check for mail or take short walks.
On a great day, he'll get outside to watch Sunshine play.
"I'm not used to being home so much," says Bob, who used to be a traveling engineer for construction companies. "I've got some home improvement projects now."
Success and survival are constantly at stake; the Powers are learning to play the ball where it lies each day.
"You can't just shut everything down," Bob says.
And he can't miss out on Sunshine, who is seeking her second straight Southwest Conference title and fourth consecutive trip to the Class 6A girls championships.
Amid a rare year of rebuilding for the Black Tornado, her hope is to finally crack the top 10 individually at state. Sunshine is the only returner and only senior on a team with three sophomores and four freshmen.
"If you have four or five of those kids who have been on varsity for several years, they form a pack that others follow," says 11th-year North head coach Tim Sam. "Right now, Sunshine is that pack."
With Powers at the forefront, North has collected four consecutive district titles and placed third at state twice since 2007. In 2009, she captured medalist honors at every SWC tournament she entered. But after tying for 11th place at state, Powers set aside the game for almost five months.
"I got really busy with school projects and work," she says.
Powers has since returned with full force to the course, determined to guide her young teammates and polish up a short game that seems to have gained the most rust during her hiatus.
"It is just taking time," she says. "Right now, I am not struggling hitting greens or fairways, or hitting balls. It's just putting."
Powers already has four first-place finishes this season, firing an 80 at Rogue Valley Country Club and an 82 at Eagle Point Golf Club last month. In both meets, the young Black Tornado came in fifth out of six teams.
Powers, who has signed a letter of intent to golf at Concordia University, an NAIA school in Portland, carded a 79 at Grants Pass last week and an 80 on Monday in Roseburg.
Powers is only 5-foot-4 but owns a powerful and precise punch that's propelled her career.
"She doesn't have a lot of leverage, but she gets a lot out of her swing," Sam says. "She doesn't always crush the ball, but she's always in the fairway. Missing kick-ins and 3- and 4-putting, that's not her. It's not unusual for her to have 28 or 29 putts over 18 holes, and she's almost always under 36."
Sam also notes Powers' mental stamina.
"Young kids like texting, games, things that take 10 or 15 seconds and don't require any patience," he says. "With golf, it's a process that can take hours. It takes a special temperament. She has it."
But a top-10 individual finish at state has evaded Powers. She tied for 11th her freshman and junior seasons and was 16th as a sophomore. She will get her chance to improve with a top-three individual finish at district on May 10 at Grants Pass Golf Club. The 6A championships begin May 17 at Quail Valley Golf Course in Banks.
"It's the only tournament where it seems she hasn't caught a break yet," says her dad.
Chanta Powers came up with her daughters' unique names. An avid fan of golf, Chanta, who stands 4-9, grew up in the fertile lands of Phetchabun, Thailand. She and Bob have been married for 22 years.
Chanta's usually not far from her daughter at tournaments.
"Sometimes when I do bad, I'll look at her and she'll just shake her head," Sunshine says with a laugh. "When she first started watching me my freshman year, she didn't really know the whole concept of it. She would think that if the ball didn't land three feet from the hole, it wasn't good enough."
Bob grew up in Grants Pass and graduated from the Oregon Institute of Technology. He's worked in Kuwait, Algeria and Puerto Rico. The family has lived in Medford for 14 years.
Sunshine, who was born in Eugene, began playing competitively in Oregon Golf Association events at age 8. She broke 50 in the fifth grade at a pee-wee tournament.
"That's where I knew I could actually hit super far," says Sunshine, who has worked with instructor Dirk Collins at Stewart Meadows Golf Course since the seventh grade.
With her dad as her witness, Sunshine landed her first ace when she was 12 on the second hole at Stone Ridge Golf Club in Eagle Point. A year later, she owned a score in the 70s.
Powers entered her freshman year at North as the team's top golfer.
"There have been many kids who didn't even know they would like golf, but got hooked and kept getting better," Sam says. "Of course, Sunshine was not one of those kids."
At Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in 2008, Powers shot a lifetime best 73. She was 16.
"(My dad) didn't want me to stop there," she says. "The day after we got back from Pumpkin Ridge, we practiced more and worked on things. He was willing to do anything."
One Day at a Time
Bob recently finished a round of chemotherapy sessions that began in January. When he feels well, he gets up and walks.
He tried to play at Centennial Golf Club three weeks ago, but anemia quickly set in and his energy faded.
"Even riding in a golf cart would be tough," he says.
But pessimism is not an option, Bob says. Not with two daughters who are about to graduate — Snow from Washington University in St. Louis — and so much to live for.
But as he takes on his cancer, something that can feel so inexorable at times, he says he does not want to slow anyone down.
"I try to put my family at the top," he says. "If something happens to me, it happens to me. (Just) try to enjoy the times you have and also don't try to change their world because of you."
Sunshine, like her dad, takes it one day at a time.
"It probably happens to more people than just me," says Sunshine, an aspiring nurse. "What kind of really gets me the most is when people come up to me and give me hugs. Crying about it was more back then. Now I am able to talk about it. The more I talk about it, the better. I'm able to get it off my shoulders and let people know what's going on. I don't want sympathy because that will just make me teary eyed."
Sunshine had also considered attending OIT, partly to be closer to her father. But the man behind the camera, the one making her smile in the old photograph, insisted that she follow her heart.
"I was thinking about not playing college golf because of (my dad's cancer)," she says. "I know my mom is probably going to need me a lot, just to be around. But I know he wants me to play college golf and he wants me to be good."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail email@example.com