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Family enjoys a big week on the links

It began innocently enough.

Or, as the dad called it, "organically."

When the onetime schoolboy golf star got the itch to swing a club, he headed to the Stewart Meadows driving range. Different from his younger days, he now had his two young daughters in tow.

"While I was hitting, they would sit on the bench and watch," said Jamie Hammericksen, who, as a senior at North Medford High, tied for second at the 1993 state championships. "That lasted for about a week. Then Baylee decided, 'I'd rather do this than watch.'"

She was about 3, and he bought her a couple clubs.

"I'd giver her two or three golf balls, and she'd only hit them 2 or 3 feet," he said, "but that would last her the whole time I was hitting balls."

Little did they know it was a snapshot of what the family life would be like.

In time, the clan was a common sight on weekends on the Rogue Valley Country Club fairways, with Jamie, Baylee and the youngest, Riley, playing and mom Kirsten enjoying the walk.

There have been a lot of good weeks, given the success of the girls in junior play, but perhaps none was better than last week.

Baylee, 12, won the intermediate division in the 85th Bob Norquist Oregon Junior Amateur. It was her second straight state title but one of her first competitions in the division for ages 12 to 14.

Riley, 11, followed suit, winning the pee wee division for ages 11 and under. The year before, she made it to the match-play semifinals, then lost to her sister.

Jamie, meanwhile, returned from the junior am at Eagle Crest's Ridge Course in Redmond in time to play in a fundraising tournament at RVCC. He's the South Medford High boys golf coach and teamed with one of his players, Reese Fisher, to win the Rogue Valley Shootout, sponsored by Garrison's Home Furnishings.

On his own ball in a best-ball format, Hammericksen shot 67 on Day 1 (one stroke behind Fisher), and they stayed hot in a scramble on Day 2 to dominate the field.

"I was thinking Reese would have to carry us and I would throw a shot in here and there," said Hammericksen. "That literally is as good as I can play. I left nothing on that course."

But as enjoyable as it was, it was no match for watching his daughters the preceding week.

"No doubt about it," he said. "It's so much more fun to watch my kids have success and have fun; fun, more than anything. Success comes and goes. You have good stretches and bad stretches. To watch them have fun is everything to me. They love golf more than I ever have, and that's saying a lot."

He and Kirsten are mindful of being overbearing. At tournaments, Jamie said, they see parents projecting well into the future, wondering what benefits might come from their kids' prowess. It is natural, but worth tempering.

It's why he called it "totally organic" the way Baylee and Riley took up the game.

Hammericksen had options to play basketball and golf out of high school and chose the court over the course, playing hoops at Oregon Tech.

"Being a former college athlete myself," he said, "I know the reality of it. It's hard, it's hard work. If they choose to go down that path, it will be with a lot of reality and guidance from me."

The topic comes up occasionally, he said, but he steers the conversation in another direction.

There was some pushing for the girls to play in the junior amateur, but it came from Riley.

A week of golf in central Oregon was a big commitment for the family.

"Riley pushed and pushed," said Jamie. "She wanted to go so badly. This was her chance to be the oldest in the division, and that's the year everyone kind of looks forward to in any division."

Baylee was more ambivalent. She would be among the youngest in her division, going against girls entering high school. If she did well, she'd play competitively for five straight days, or three more than she'd done before.

Baylee will be a seventh-grader at St. Mary's, and Riley a sixth-grader. Both had been attending Lone Pine Elementary.

Baylee began the week with stroke-play rounds of 81 and 77 to earn the top seed in match play.

She said she was confident the hard work she put in would give her a chance to win.

However, there were dicey moments.

In the semifinals, she was 3 down with four holes to play and won out. The grind of the tournament showed.

"She got really tired," said Jamie. "She came off the course looking like she'd been in a boxing match, she was so tired."

In the final, she was 3 down early, won five of six holes at one point, then closed out Jessica Ponce of Portland for a 2-and-1 victory.

"I think what got me through it," said Baylee, "was I would imagine myself losing, and I didn't like it. I love to win, so the thought of losing and letting someone else take it was unacceptable. I decided I had to fight through it and make it happen."

Her strong suit was her chipping and putting.

"Even though my shots to the green weren't really good," she said, "I could make the shots or putts to win or square the hole."

Riley, too, had to rally in her nine-hole championship match. She erased a 1-down deficit with pars on the final two holes to defeat Jacinda Lee of Camas, Wash.

The tournament circuit will continue through the summer, and the Hammericksens will be there.

"They just love being out there on the golf course," said Jamie, "playing and practicing and just being around it all the time."

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com

Baylee Hammericksen
Riley Hammericksen