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College golf: Wilsonville alum Jesse Salzwedel in control at Whitworth

Success continues for Division III athlete following brain surgery in 2007


by: WHITWORTH ATHLETICS - Jesse Salzwedel, who graduated from Wilsonville High School in 2010, recently finished his junior year with the Whitworth men's golf team. He led the Pirates with a strokes-per-round average of 74.2.April 21 was a joyful day.

Jesse Salzwedel and the Whitworth men’s golf team erased a first-round deficit at the Northwest Conference championships to inch past Linfield College, capturing the team title at the OGA Golf Course in Woodburn.

“Winning the conference tournament was an incredible experience, and I felt so blessed to be a part of a championship-contending team,” said Salzwedel, who graduated from Wilsonville High School in 2010. “Many people don’t realize that golf is a team sport and, although we control our own destiny, it is crucial to support and encourage your teammates. The team chemistry we had was a heavy contributor to our conference success.”

Their conference success allowed Salzwedel and the Pirates to wrap up their landmark season in May with a trip to the Division III championships at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin, Fla.

And the campaign didn’t end without several personal accolades for Salzwedel, who recently finished his junior year at the private Christian school in Spokane, Wash.

He received first-team all-league recognition for the third year in a row under coach Warren Friedrichs, earning runner-up honors at each of the first two conference tournaments this season before taking 11th place at the conference finals with a two-day 150.

“Although we are a smaller school, there are still plenty of great golfers in our conference and it isn’t easy to win a tournament — I have had eight or nine runner-up finishes in tournaments since I started, as opposed to only two or three wins,” he said. “You have to be really sharp for all 36 or 54 holes, and you can’t get away with dumb mistakes.”

Salzwedel was also selected by the Golf Coaches Association of America to the Division III PING All-West Region team, joining freshman teammate Oliver Rudnicki.

Playing on high-yardage courses with thicker rough and firmer and faster greens than he did in high school, Salzwedel was forced to improve his skills on the links. He’s better at hitting fairways, landing iron shots and sinking putts in his short game.

This past season, he led the Pirates with a strokes-per-round average of 74.2.

“Although my scoring average in college has been higher than it was in high school, I believe I have become a more consistent golfer since I started at Whitworth,” he said.

Meanwhile, he’s been just as outstanding in the classroom.

The GCAA named Salzwedel an All-America scholar for keeping a strokes average under 79 and holding a grade-point average above 3.2 as a junior or senior student-athlete with “high moral character.”

An accounting major with a 3.77 GPA, Salzwedel nabbed a spot on the Academic All-District VIII Men’s At-Large Team as chosen by the College Sports Information Directors Association.

Salzwedel is spending his summer as a tax and audit intern at Moss Adams LLP, a financial services firm in downtown Portland. He plans to become an accountant after graduation.

***

Jan. 11, 2007, was a transformative day.

That’s when Salzwedel had brain surgery at Oregon Health & Science University to undo his epilepsy, a neurological condition characterized by uncontrollable seizures.

His first seizures came early in his childhood, and they returned with more severity during middle school. He feared he wouldn’t be able to excel in school, drive a car or play sports.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play any sports in high school — I had already had to give up other sports that I had planned on participating at Wilsonville,” he said.

Many people with epilepsy mitigate the disorder with medications. But the drugs didn’t work for Salzwedel, leaving him and his parents to consider another option: brain surgery.

A few days after doctors determined which tiny piece of Salzwedel’s brain to remove, they changed his life forever. He has not experienced seizures since.

“I am extremely thankful for the doctors who performed the surgery and even more thankful for the grace of God to heal me of my sickness,” he said. “My seizures definitely had a big impact on my life. However, God gave me the opportunity to play golf, and I feel I used that opportunity to the fullest.”

Following the procedure, Salzwedel became a standout golfer at Wilsonville.

Under then-coach Kevin Guay, he placed 28th at the OSAA state championships as a freshman, took 18th as a sophomore and nabbed eighth as a junior.

He took memorable trips with the squad to Sunriver and Bandon for tournaments. He developed strong relationships with teammates. And he enjoyed playing under the tutelage of Jeff Deeder, who replaced Guay before Salzwedel’s senior season.

“He is perhaps the most interesting man in the world,” Salzwedel said. “Deeder was such an incredible coach, and I was so thankful to have him for my senior year. His encouragement and positive reinforcement were perhaps the biggest contributors to my senior-year success.”

Considering his medical history, though, Salzwedel said he feels lucky that he was able to play at all.

“I am thankful to have played golf for four years at Wilsonville, and I feel that I have left my mark, but it wouldn’t have happened if my seizures hadn’t gone away,” he said. “God is good, and he was able to rid the seizures that I was having. Because of that, everything I did on the course was solely for Him and His will.”

***

May 18, 2010, was an historic day.

Salzwedel attained a special place in the annals of Wilsonville athletics as the first — and, so far, only — member of the boys golf program to win a state championship.

He accomplished the feat as a senior at Trysting Tree Golf Club in Corvallis, carding a two-day 145 to defeat Corvallis senior Roan Dickey by three strokes.

Salzwedel was in a tie for the lead with a 73 in his first round, but he pulled away with four birdies and 10 par holes on Day 2 to snag first place. He led the Wildcats to a fourth-place finish as a team.

“Freshman year after surgery, I never anticipated myself competing for a state title, let alone winning it,” he said. “To see how far God had taken me in 4 years was such an incredible experience to be a part of.”

Salzwedel said the distinction of being the only boys golf state champion in school history is particularly meaningful considering there have been several other elite players to go through the program, among them 2008 alumnus Travis Johnsen and 2009 graduate Scott Karlson.

“I feel very fortunate and blessed to have a state title under my belt,” he said. “That tournament was the perfect ending to a great senior year, and I will always be very grateful for the events that took place in Corvallis.”

***

Nov. 13, 2012, was an experimental day.

Salzwedel and a few of his friends posted their “We Are Pirates” video to YouTube, promoting Whitworth athletics with hip-hop lyrics and a smattering of sports-centric antics.

The project’s roots can be traced to January of that year, when Salzwedel and his roommates had some extra downtime during the school’s Jan Term break. They decided to make a rap video about the university’s basketball team.

“When we put it on YouTube, the athletic director and basketball coach really liked what we had made,” Salzwedel said. “So, in the fall, they asked us to make a video regarding the entire school’s athletics to try and promote the unity of Whitworth athletics.”

In the ensuing product, which lasts 3 minutes 19 seconds, Salzwedel is credited as a producer and also figures prominently as a jersey-wearing ambassador for many of the school’s sports teams.

The video has been viewed more than 18,500 times, which is impressive considering the undergraduate student enrollment at Whitworth is listed at just 2,249.

“It was a great experience,” Salzwedel said.

As for what he learned during the production process?

“None of us have a career in the rap industry,” he said.




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