Heading into her senior season, Ella Cheek felt almost no pressure on the golf course.
She had already committed to Dallas Baptist University to play collegiately, taking a massive weight that carried throughout her junior year. Without that, she felt like she could just go play golf. The results have worked in her favor, as she placed first overall at the Region II-6A championship, advancing to the state tournament on May 15-16 in Georgetown.
Compared to her junior year, where she placed 17th at regionals, she feels grateful for the opportunity to bounce back and get a shot at the state title.
“I didn’t play great at regionals last year, so this is a huge opportunity for me,” Cheek said. “I kind of expected myself to make it this year, because I improved as a player this past year, but it was great to see it.”
It wasn’t without complications, however, as the regional championship was moved to Texas A&M at late notice due to course conditions at the original site. With only a day to practice on a course she had never played before, Cheek shot a dominant 69 in her first round, leading by five strokes heading into the final day. She finished with a 143 overall, two strokes ahead of the next-highest finisher on the weekend.
“I thought it was going to be difficult for anyone to play well,” Sachse head coach Russell Simmons said. “The greens were rough out there. It was the worst we played on all year. She shot seven birdies and put herself in the right position all day. Even on bad holes, she bounced back and stayed focused.”
Internally, the situation had Cheek stressed a little more than she let on. As one of the veteran players on the team, she was able to compose herself on the course and just worry about playing golf.
“The practice round was difficult for me,” Cheek said. “They didn’t have anything prepared and didn’t mark any of the greens for us, so I basically was just playing a round of golf. My confidence went down really fast when we got there, but I just cleared my mind of all that. I didn’t want to worry about anything else but playing golf. It’s easier to do that on the first day and I trusted my game.”
That confidence has been building throughout the year for Cheek, as she won her ninth consecutive tournament at the regional championship. In a sport like golf, where mindset and one bad shot can throw off an entire tournament, Cheek has found a way to stay level-headed throughout the season and stay at a consistently high level.
“Knowing that I had completed my goals, going to college and all that, a lot of this season was just about going out and having fun for me,” Cheek said. “It was just such a relief off my shoulders and I think it’s helped my game.”
Coach Simmons, who’s coached her at Sachse for the last four years, has seen it throughout her career, but as she’s grown, he’s seen her maturity stand out this season.
“She’s always been a player that if she had a bad shot or bad hole, stayed confident heading into the next one,” Simmons said. “I can’t tell you how many times she’s told me, ‘I’ll get it back right here.’ She’s at a point in her game where she can come back from anything. She had a double bogey on hole nine, and that could derail a lot of kids, but she got a birdie on both 10 and 11, just as she told me she would.”
Heading to state, Cheek will compete at the Legacy Hills Golf Club in Georgetown, another course she’s never played at before. As she hopes to make it a 10th consecutive win and a championship, she carries the weight of the first-ever Sachse golfer to make the state tournament. That isn’t something she’s taking for granted.
“It’s surreal to hear that I’m the first player to make it to state,” Cheek said. “I think it’ll soak in a little more after the season. This is a business trip for us and I want to stay humble and work hard and hope for the best.”
Coach Simmons raised the bar even higher than that.
“She’s the most dominant female golfer in Garland ISD history,” Simmons said. “She’s got the work ethic and the talent, and we’re proud to see how she’s grown into the golfer and person she is.”
For more sports coverage, subscribe here.
For more sports pictures, see here.