Beaverton girls' golfer shines on national stage, but shies away from stardom

Gigi Stoll does not swing like a girl.

As a young tot running around the links with her father Mike and older siblings, Gigi has rocked the club with a certain potency, an unquestionable soundess that makes a striking “ping” noise when the metal hits the ball.

That powerful swing, which now as a 16-year-old phenom rips the ball 260 to 270 yards off the tee according to Mike Stoll, is Gigi’s calling card on the course. Gigi doesn’t so much hit as much as she cudgels it with an unbridled, sudden force. Out of the 28 holes at the Pacific Northwest Junior PGA Championship, Stoll hit it long and straight on 26 of them. At only 16 years old, she’s already one of the longest hitters in the world. At the 2012 U.S. Open, though she didn’t play her best golf, Gigi finished fourth overall in driving distance. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Beaverton's Gigi Stoll has gained national recognition both for her powerful drives and cool demeanor on the golf course. Stoll is a surefire high-major collegiate prospect.

“My driver’s always been a pretty big asset in my game,” said Gigi. “I’ve always been able to hit it pretty far and pretty consistent.”

However, while the Beaverton girls’ golf prodigy carries a big stick on the links, she walks and speaks softly.

When you talk to Gigi, there’s no sense of entitlement, zero arrogance or even a trace of bravado. Gigi said she pays little mind to the considerable amount of hype that’s constantly swirling around her. In fact, her dad Mike Stoll, who also doubles as her caddy, said Gigi’s never read a newspaper article about her attainments. Gigi is grounded in humble, modest ways of thinking even though she’s been billed as the next big thing in American girls’ golf.

“I just try and do my own thing and do everything for myself,” Gigi said. “I don’t really think about pressure from anybody, but I just try to play my game and not pay attention to what people say.”

Gigi is an unassuming superstar who’s hesitant to shower praise on herself. Yet, she is always the first one to greet Beaverton’s last player to walk into the clubhouse after a Metro dual match. Two weekends ago, Gigi played in a Junior Ryder Cup event where 12 girls from the United States played a dozen girls from Canada. The American chaperone was the Lincoln High School girls’ golf coach Bobbie Breslin, who chose Gigi to be the team’s captain. Breslin was overly impressed with the leadership qualities she witnessed from Gigi when she was with the Beavers during the high school season.

Gigi is a household name who relishes blending into the fabric of the team concept. She truly enjoys playing with others in pursuit of a common goal. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Beaverton's Gigi Stoll has all the makings of a future LPGA player though she'll attend a four-year university and continue her education.

“She said, ‘Gigi went beyond my greatest expectations on her ability to lead the other girls and get them to focus on being a team and being the best they could,’” said Mike Stoll. “She’s just a real, natural leader. It’s just not real important to her to be a celebrity or whatever you want to call it. She’s comfortable with who she is.” Gigi’s meteoric career started innocently enough when she was 5 years old, tagging along with Mike to the Portland Golf Club where he was a member. Gigi and Mike used to live right along the PGC, and the two of them would go out at night and hit balls. Mike made the game fun for young Gigi by putting practice balls on the edge of a manmade lake on the 11th hole and having her smash it over the water. He put the ball at a distance to where Gigi really had to put some power into the ball to sail past the drink. Once Gigi and her older brother clubbed it over, they’d move farther and farther back until they eventually got clear back to the women’s tees.

Mike said Gigi was a natural athlete from the start.

“A lot of girls are dainty when they swing, but she wasn’t like that,” remembered Mike Stoll. “It was real natural. She swung with a lot of power, she was very strong and coordinated. You could tell she was extremely athletic and was going to be a really good golfer right off the bat.”

A lean and strong 5’10”, Gigi is a sweet-shooting two-guard on the Beaverton High School girls’ team during the winter who was second-team all-Metro and helped the Beavers make the 6A state tournament.,Basketball gives her an athletic equilibrium, a yin to golf’s yang.

“It’s a good balance to share experiences as a team and relying on your team, when golf is more individual and you play to shoot your number,” said Gigi.

Mike was a basketball assistant coach for Nick Robertson at Beaverton High for many years and said the benefits from Gigi playing team sports are innumerable. The bonds between teammates, the time management and the dedication to the craft are just some of the advantages to hoops that parlay into golf.

“I think it’s a really good complement to golf,” said Mike Stoll. “What she ends up doing is playing close to six and a half months of basketball and five and a half months of golf. Her future is in golf, but there are just tremendous advantages to doing both.”

Whereas many players have to spend every waking moment fine-tuning their swings, pouring hours upon mindless hours onto the course, Gigi can put golf on the backburner, come back to it after months away and not miss beat. Amazingly enough, from the day basketball started in October until the day it ended March 9 when the Beavers bowed out in the 6A girls’ state tournament, Gigi rarely touched a club. Mike Stoll estimated Gigi went to the driving range and hit balls for less than an hour three times during the entire hoops’ season.

Even when Gigi does practice, Mike said she does better when she goes out and plays. If there’s a certain facet that needs a tweak, whether it’s chipping or putting, then the father-daughter combo will address it. Otherwise, Gigi is just a normal teenager who likes hanging out with friends in Portland, listening to music or chilling on the couch. The game doesn’t consume her like it does for so many other special players.

Gigi said that while the opportunity to skip college and head straight to the LPGA could possibly be there in two years, she’s set on playing golf at the Division One level. A 3.8 grade point average student who takes the classroom as serious as she does her golf game, Gigi wants to continue her education while still being part of a team.

Because she spends approximately half of her time on the hardwood, Gigi won’t touch her full potential as a golfer until college — which has to make coaches at the University of Southern California and Stanford drool or even later when she reaches her early 20s. Lydia Ko at 15 won the Canadian Open on the LPGA Tour last summer.

Moriya and Aryia Jutanugam are both on the tour with Aryia making more than $600,000 this year at 17 years old. Gigi’s played with all these pros but because of her athleticism and power, she conceivably has more promise than any of them.

“It’s up to her, but she chooses to make this her passion and loves the game. She has all the potential to make a living playing the game,” said Mike Stoll, “when she gets to college and plays with five or six girls on a team who are comparable to her skill level and focused on what they’re doing all the time.”

The fact of the matter is, the sophomore is the antithesis of what’s commonly associated with the diva linkswoman, though with Stoll’s astonishing achievements one could exempt the recently-turned 16-year-old from crowing about her accomplishments every now and again.

Last year at the ripe age of 15, Gigi won the U.S. Women’s Open qualifier in Half Moon Bay, Calif., with a 142 over two days to advance to the U.S. Open in Kohler, Wis. She beat players from the LPGA tour and a number of future Pac-12 competitors on her way to becoming one of the youngest players ever to compete in a U.S. Open.

In the unthinkable heat and humidity of a Midwest summer, Gigi rubbed sweaty elbows with the pros and picked their brains about everything from how they traverse through two days of high-intensity golf to their practice methods. The high, scorching temperatures inflated Gigi’s total to 26 shots over par, but the lessons she reaped from the likes of Japan’s Ai Miyazato were inestimable in importance. Gigi and Miyazato — the 10th-ranked player in the world — walked 18 holes together during a practice round. The 27-year-old pro let Gigi into her inner circle, showed her how to prepare and the careful detail that goes into the profession.

“Every little thing counts because that’s her job,” said Stoll. “I got a taste of what the LPGA is like, at what it takes to be at that level. It was a great experience that I took so much from. I love the competitive nature of golf and being able to compete with new players and people who I’ve always played against. It’s fun to have that competitive drive.”

Gigi garnered an OSAA 6A state championship as a freshman, crushing the field by an eye-popping 10 strokes. She’s taken top honors at the Oregon Junior Girls’ Championship and the Oregon Women’s Amateur Championship among the other numerous accolades and first-place trophies sitting in her trophy case. Last weekend at the Northwest Junior Girls’ PGA Championship, Stoll birdied three of her final five holes to overtake Olivia Benzen and Alivia Brown. By winning, she qualifies to play in the Under Armour Junior PGA Championship at Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Va., July 30 to Aug 2.

The Junior PGA Championship and the USGA Girls Junior are the two biggest events in junior golf.

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