Golf: Pioneer’s Melendez turned shaky start into ninth place at the D-1 state finals

Amaya Melendez teed it up last weekend with her Pioneer teammates at the Division State Finals and anytime you leave a golf course satisfied and content is a good thing. And Melendez and the Pioneers were more than satisfied and content.

Melendez finished ninth overall with a 158 (77-81) in a crowded field of outstanding golfers at Forest Akers West Golf Course in East Lansing. The junior helped lead the Pioneers to eighth overall.

“Overall, I think that this year’s State Finals was a very positive experience,” Melendez said. “It was a lot of fun getting to stay in a hotel with my teammates and we did a lot of team bonding and a lot of fun stuff.”

The tournament started on Saturday morning for the Pioneers. After breakfast, the players headed to the links.

“It was very busy when we got to the range, but I was able to get an individual spot so I was able to practice hitting with all my golf clubs until I felt confident with them,” said Melendez. “After that we drove to Forest Akers West and the green was actually closed at first. It was stressful with the frost delay because no one was able to practice putting and hundreds of kids were waiting by the greens to putt.”

When the green finally opened, Melendez made sure to focus on the six to eight footers – those mid-range putts that can make or break a scorecard.

“I knew that if I made those putts in the tournament, then I could shave off a lot of strokes and save a lot of pars,” she said.

The State Finals is a shotgun start and Melendez started off on No. 7, an uphill par three.

“The first few holes I was really feeling the tension and got nervous which affected my golf swing,” she said. “I started out with two double bogeys in a row followed by another bogey on the first three holes. I was pretty upset but when I got to the next hole my golf coach (Bill Lyle) helped calm me down and to focus on the rest of the holes.

“I also got a nice pep talk from my golf teammate (Mackenzie Rooney) who was playing behind my group and caught up to us. I really appreciated her kindness and it helped me to feel calm and happy which contributed a lot to my playing better after that.”

The encouragement and support made its way to the scorecard as Melendez saved par with a sand save on a par three. She found her mojo and parred her last 15 holes to end the day with a 77.

“Even though the first three holes of the tournament could have been a lot better, I was proud that I stayed in the game and fought through the last 15 holes,” she said. “My swing coach (Dave Kendall) also helped me out. Before the state championship, he told me that if I had a string of bad holes, to try and have a good hole after and then build up confidence from there.”

And that’s exactly what she did – with the support of her coach and teammates.

The second morning of the tournament, Melendez started on No. 17, a par five.

“I was optimistic because I like playing par fives,” she said. “I started out with a par, which got me feeling confident. Throughout the round, I was striking the ball pretty well but I wasn’t picking the right landing spots and so there were sometimes small tree branches in the air preventing me from hitting a regular approach shot on the green.

“I felt like I lost a lot of strokes because of my decision making in terms of the landing spots. And because of that I scored higher then I would have hoped too.”

She also struggled a bit on the greens.

“I wasn’t as precise with making the eight footers and six footers like I was on the first day,” she said. “By the end, my decision making and putting got the best of my score and I had a pretty rough day and ended up shooting an 81.”

While she was not pleased with her round, she very much enjoyed bonding with her teammates afterward the round.

“I felt happy because we improved our score as a whole team and ended up placing eighth in the state as a team,” she said. “I thought that was a pretty big accomplishment for Pioneer golf.”