Abby Mann remembers what it was like when, as a high school freshman, she went through the growing pains that come with taking up golf.
She turned out for North Medford's team and played on the junior varsity.
WHO: North Medford High graduate is in her senior season as a member of the George Fox University golf team.
"If I broke 60 for nine holes, I was really excited," she says.
In the Old Habits Are Hard to Break Dept., the senior on the George Fox University team found herself back in the 60s this year.
But it was for 18 holes.
And it tied a course record.
And it served as a hallmark achievement for a player who, unlike many of the women she competes against, didn't grow up with an expansive background in junior golf but who, through perseverance and a deep fondness for the game, built herself into an accomplished player at a high level.
Mann and her teammates at George Fox, which is in Newberg, recently captured the Northwest Conference championship for the fourth straight year and will compete in the NCAA Division III national tournament May 14-16 at Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort in Miramar Beach, Fla.
It'll be the second national appearance for Mann, who was an alternate when the Bruins advanced in her freshman and sophomore years.
There is little doubt she belongs.
Mann is the No. 2 player on a George Fox team that is ranked fifth in the country and is led by the nation's top-ranked player, Kelsey Morrison. Morrison was NWC player of the year, and Mann was right behind her in the voting, landing a spot on the all-conference first team.
In 11 tournaments as a senior — there are fall and spring seasons — Mann has placed in the top five eight times and the top three five times.
"She's a great example of someone who can take their game to the next level just with a great work ethic and determination," says George Fox coach MaryJo McCloskey, a former University of Oregon player who founded the Bruins program six years ago. "She's really shown that she can play the game."
Mann drove home that point in the fall at the Sonoma State Invitational in Santa Rosa, Calif. On the second and final day, she blistered the Santa Rosa Golf and Country Club course for a 3-under-par 69, setting the tournament single-round scoring record.
It followed an opening 79 and vaulted her into a tie for third place in a field made up mostly of Division II and NAIA scholarship players. (Division III schools don't offer athletic scholarships.)
Even more impressive was that she tied the decades-old course record, owned by Pam Palmieri, who played for Stanford from 1974-76.
"That was pretty special," says Mann.
During the round, she had the first eagle of her college career, holing out from 75 yards, and tacked on four birdies. At one point, she was 5 under par, but she slid back with consecutive bogeys with six holes remaining.
McCloskey is big on the mental aspect of golf. She holds weekly meetings with the Bruins with exercises devoted to the importance of focusing on each shot, and she noted that Adam Scott spoke of his success in that regard while winning the Masters.
"It's hard to do, not get ahead of yourself or look back," says McCloskey.
And that was Mann's challenge coming off two bogeys and with six holes to play in her memorable round. She knew she was doing well and fought the urge to figure up her score.
She then parred out.
"They were the hardest pars I've ever had," she laughs. "I just wanted to hit greens and make putts."
On the last hole, she left her first putt 7 feet short but stepped up and put a good stroke on the next one, sinking it.
"That gave me a lot of confidence that I could make that putt in a pressure situation," she says.
Her 69 was five shots better than the next-best score that day, owing to a difficult setup.
McCloskey chalked it up as a testament to Mann's hard work and says that regardless of what happens at nationals, the senior has already proven herself.
The record round a was hit with her Bruin teammates, too.
"It was especially motivating for the younger players," says McCloskey. "They know her story, and they know, too, if they follow in her footsteps, who knows where that can take them as well."
Mann's footsteps were far from the golf course as she grew up. She tried a variety of sports and stayed with volleyball through high school, serving as the starting libero for the Black Tornado.
Golf entered the picture mostly because her father, Alex, himself an avid player, pestered her to try it.
She did and found it to be "really frustrating."
But Mann gave high school golf a whirl, and her father served as a volunteer coach her first year.
It was only after she took lessons following her sophomore year that she became enamored of the game. As a junior, she began to consider playing in college.
Mann helped North Medford place third in the state as a senior in 2009 and got the attention of McCloskey, who saw potential in her recruit's game and was impressed that she was both a strong student and team leader.
Did the coach see a record round in Mann? Not necessarily. But that Mann has become the team's No. 2 player is not surprising, she says.
Mann has improved about nine shots per round since starting at George Fox. Her ball striking, particularly with her irons, is solid, and her ability to focus is an asset.
Her scoring average this year is 80.1.
Mann's best finish this spring was in March, when she tied for second in the Phoenix Invitational with a final-round 72. Among the players she beat was last year's Division III player of the year, Olivia Lugar of Washington-St. Louis.
Now, Mann is looking for a strong showing at nationals. The Bruins' best finish was seventh a year ago.
"It's definitely possible for us to get a trophy (top four) as long as we play solid and stay confident," she says. "We'll go out there and enjoy it and trust our game. I think we'll do really well. It'll be exciting to see what happens."
Mann will get a degree in Allied Health, or pre-physical therapy, and hopes to find work in the golf industry. She'll move to Tucson, Ariz., and stay with relatives upon graduation.
She'd like to try to qualify for USGA championship tournaments and might give the Cactus Tour, a women's minitour in the Phoenix area, a try.
Somehow, golf will be part of her life.
"I definitely don't want to stop," she says. "I love it too much and I've put too much work into it."
It's a habit she wants to keep.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org