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On Sports

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Gigi Stoll, a sophomore at Beaverton High, follows an iron shot during the final round of the state golf tournament Tuesday at Quail Valley in Banks. The 2012 champion finished second by one shot.Nothing is a given. Gigi Stoll found out the hard way during the Class 6A golf championships at Quail Valley Golf Course.

The Beaverton High sophomore, who entered the day tied for the individual lead after shooting 1-over-par 73 in the first round, put up a 4-under 68 to finish at 3-under 141 — two strokes better than her winning score at Trysting Tree in Corvallis as a freshman, when she beat the field by a whopping 10 shots.

Stoll then had to wait nearly an hour and a half for this year’s other first-day co-leader — Forest Grove junior Hannah Swanson — to finish. Swanson had to shoot 68 to force a playoff, 67 to win outright.

Swanson was up to the challenge. Playing the front side last, Swanson birdied holes 1, 2 and 3 and eagled No. 5, finishing with a tournament-record 32-35--67 masterpiece for a 4-under 140 and an improbable one-stroke victory.

“Hannah played really well,” a gracious Stoll says. “She deserved it. I thought I had played good enough to win, but I didn’t.”

During the final round, Stoll had burned up the first nine with a 5-under 31 and stood at 6-under after a birdie at No. 10.

“I played almost perfect to that point,” she says.

It seemed as if the best round the prodigy had ever posted in a tournament — 65 — was in jeopardy.

It might have been had she not missed short putts at Nos. 11, 12 and 16 for bogeys on each hole.

“Small errors on the backside were what got me,” Stoll says. “Just a couple of silly 3-putts.”

Swanson’s achievement cost Stoll — one of the most promising female golfers in Oregon history — a chance to become the first player to win the state prep girls title four straight years.

“That would have been great,” Stoll says. “It’s a pretty big disappointment. I was looking forward to trying to do that. It just didn’t work out.”

Swanson and Stoll have matched up many times in junior golf over the years, Swanson beating Stoll for the first time last summer in the finals of the Oregon Junior Match-Play Championships. Stoll is still up handily in the rivalry, but Swanson has given her some incentive for the next time they meet.

Meanwhile, Stoll is getting warmed up for a big summer of high-octane tournament activity, beginning Monday with the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier at Waverley Country Club.

As a 15-year-old a year ago, Stoll burst onto the national scene by winning the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier at Half Moon Bay, Calif., with a 75-67-142, beating out several LPGA Tour players as well as college standouts from Stanford and California.

Stoll wilted in the heat and humidity in the U.S. Women’s Open at Kohler, Wis., last July, shooting 26-over 86-84—170.

“The worst heat wave in Wisconsin in 30 years,” says Mike Stoll, Gigi’s father, coach and caddy. “It was a blast furnace.”

It turned what had been a fruitful summer for Stoll, who had previously earned medalist honors at both the Oregon Women’s Amateur and Oregon Junior Girls Championships. After the Open, Stoll went from the Calloway Junior Worlds in San Diego to the USGA Junior Girls in San Francisco to the Junior America’s Cup in Maui.

“She didn’t play well in any of them,” her father says. “She was exhausted. After that, she shut down.”

Says Gigi: “I was gone literally all of July. I took a lot of August off, hung out and cooled off.”

When you watch Gigi Stoll hit the golf ball, it’s easy to forget she is barely 16, with two years of high school in front of her. At 5-10 and 150 pounds, she is long and athletic and hits the ball a mile — averaging 265 to 270 yards off the drive, according to her father.

In my early years as a reporter, I covered Mike Stoll in a lot of amateur golf events in the state. A former baseball catcher at Oregon who didn’t play competitive golf until post-college, Stoll became good enough to serve as Oregon Golf Association player of the year and participate in four U.S. Amateurs, two British Amateurs and one U.S. Public Links Championship during his career.

Now Stoll, 66, is devoting much of his life to helping the youngest of his four offspring navigate the minefield ahead. They live together in Beaverton with Mike’s girlfriend, Virginia Bohlander. Gigi’s mother lives in Las Vegas. Her siblings are grown.

“My dad is the biggest part of my game,” Gigi says. “He sets up all my tournaments, lessons, everything. He is always there, he’s always supporting me. He has made the biggest impact on me in my life as a golfer.”

Stoll is no Svengali. He’s a typical parent who agonizes and thrills in his child’s athletic ups and downs, but seems careful about being too demonstrative or offering too much advice.

Gigi loves team sports, and her father has endorsed the idea of her playing basketball, even though that could hinder development in the sport by which she may one day make a living. Gigi was a second-team all-Metro League selection on the Beaverton team that made it to the 6A tournament this winter.

“Basketball is super fun,” she says. “I love sharing every experience with my teammates. I love playing for my school. That’s how I feel about golf, too. It’s normally an individual sport, but during the high school season, I get to be with my teammates. They can rely on me and I can rely on them and we can play as a whole.”

Many youngsters with Stoll’s skills have given up other sports to concentrate on golf year-round. Not Gigi.

“A lot of college (golf) coaches say it’s great to have two sports, to continue with the balance,” she says. “My dad is supportive. He wants me to continue with both as well.”

Mike Stoll once served on the basketball coaching staff of the legendary Nick Robertson at Beaverton.

“I’m a huge believer in team sports,” Stoll says. “That’s the one big drawback to golf. It’s such an individual game.

“Gigi says she wants to play basketball through high school. I’d hate to have her say, ‘I didn’t play, I missed playing with my friends.’ All the things that go into team sports — relationships, organization, discipline — are so good for a kid.”

Gigi will continue to play high school golf, too.

“It’s a really big part of my golf,” she says. “Some people say it’s kind of a joke or silly, but spending this time with my teammates and getting to know them, it’s just really fun. I’ve made a lot of new friends from other teams. I’ll continue to enjoy my high school golf experience.”

Stoll’s father is mindful that many girls at or near Gigi’s age have basically turned their lives over to golf, with great results. Lydia Ko, a New Zealander born in South Korea who just turned 16, was 15 when she won the 2012 Canadian Open. Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn, 17, recently tied for third at the LPGA Kingsmill Championship at Williamsburg, Va. American Lexi Thompson, 18, turned pro at 15 and was 16 when she became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event.

“There are so many girls Gigi’s age who are so good, it’s hard to believe,” Mike Stoll says. “But they’re not playing basketball, and I don’t think any of them are going to school.”

A 3.8-GPA student, Gigi is likely to continue her golf career in college rather than turning pro after high school. She has a very mature attitude about it, too.

“The college opportunity is so big,” she says. “Being able to play on a team and do stuff with your teammates and travel and get an education — that’s an important part of my future. if the pro tour doesn’t happen, I’ll have that education.”

Stanford, she says, “is everyone’s dream school. But it will be whatever school I fall in love with and feel like I can spend my future there. The door’s pretty wide open. It could be anywhere.”

Gigi considers golf an important part of her future, but not just because she is so good at it.

"It teaches me a lot of life lessons," she says. "It helps me every day with decisions I make. It helps me become a better person. There's no game like it."

Stoll is a marked player on the golf course these days. Opponents gear up to play her. She sometimes draws sizable galleries. It's all good, she says.

"I handle the pressure pretty well," she says. "I don't find it that big of a deal. If you are prepared, you shouldn't feel nervous. You should be ready for what's coming.

"I enjoy the support. When people react to a good shot, I enjoy the applause. It's great to have all the support out there."

Gigi’s father says if and when his daughter commits totally to golf, big things will happen.

“Gigi is more athletic than every one of those girls her age playing professionally,” Mike Stoll says. “If she ever makes the commitment and has the passion those other girls have, she has the potential to play with any of them. If that happens, once she’s in her 20s, I would put her up against anyone out there.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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