GIRLS GOLF ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Emily Elliott, Ridgevue

By her own admission, Emily Elliott didn’t think she stood out on a golf course.

No, it didn’t have to do with the fact that she’s 5-feet, 2-inches, although that certainly didn’t help matters. But more because her game was all over the place.

However, few stood above the Ridgevue junior golfer this season.

Elliott won three 4A Southern Idaho Conference matches, finished runner-up in the other three, placed second in the 4A District III Championships and became the first Ridgevue girls golfer ever to place at a state tournament by taking ninth.

For these achievements, Elliott is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Girls Golf Athlete of the Year.

“I never expected any of this and I definitely surprised myself,” Elliott said. “Really up until this season, I never thought of myself as being better than any of the other girls. This was really the first year where I felt like I could be really good at this. So it was really great just to take that next step up with my game.”

Not even her coach Valerie Orr saw this coming.

The Ridgevue girls golf coach was at Vallivue at the time when she met Elliott. Orr actually knew her fraternal twin sister, Maya, well before Emily. But once Emily joined the Vallivue girls golf team her freshman year, Orr made her acquaintance.

However, Emily did little to distinguish herself on the golf course that year. She had an average score of 105, played anywhere from the No. 1 to No. 5 golfer on the team and missed out on the state tournament entirely.

She even struggled last season in her first year at Ridgevue. Emily had difficulty getting out of the 90s and went back and forth with Maya as the team’s No. 1 golfer.

Emily had one of her worse rounds of the season at districts by carding a 100. But she was still fortunate enough to become the first Ridgevue girls golfer to qualify for the state tournament by finishing in a tie for sixth place because the rest of the field struggled as well.

But following a pretty forgettable two-round state tournament score of 191, where Elliott finished 13 strokes back of even placing, things changed for her in a big way this season.

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She won 4A SIC matches at Purple Sage, Ridgecrest and TimberStone. Elliott also dropped her average score all the way down to the mid eighties.

“She was just so quiet and very unassuming,” Orr said. “Emily would shoot alright, but it wasn’t anything that really stood out. But then this year she gradually started dropping the strokes off her game and they just kept coming off. She become more consistent and all of a sudden was one of the best golfers in the state. It was a really special thing for me to watch.”

Elliott’s newfound game continued at the 4A District III Championships at RedHawk Golf Course in Nampa. She carded a 14-over 85 for a runner-up finish. It was a 15-stroke improvement from the year before and allowed her to punch a return trip to the state tournament, only this time without any doubt.

“My main goal this season was just to place at a couple matches, but then I started winning them instead,” Elliott said. “And that finally gave me the confidence I needed. I now know that if I really continue to work hard I could not only be right up with some of the best golfers, but even beat them.”

At the 4A State Golf Championships at StoneRidge Golf Course in Blanchard, Elliott made more history. She shot an 87 both days to finish with a final 36-hole score of 174 that tied her for seventh place. Elliott was just four shots back of a top-4 finish.

However, she lost a playoff scorecard which dropped her down to ninth place. But Elliott still became the first Ridgevue girls golfer ever to place at a state tournament.

“I know she surprised herself with this type of season, but knowing her, I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Ridgecrest Golf Course PGA professional Tim Bensley, who works with Elliott. “I think this year she realized that her making state last season wasn’t a fluke. She belonged with the best golfers in the state because of the type of person she is. She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the chance to coach because she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to where she wants to be.”

Following her breakout year, Elliott has already set her sights on next season. The 17-year-old works at the Ridgecrest Golf Course in Nampa. So when she isn’t parking carts or cleaning bathrooms, Elliott is on the course honing her craft. She will also prepare for next year by playing in Idaho Golf Association golf tournaments this summer.

She has district and state championship aspirations, but more importantly, wants to get the Ridgevue girls golf team to the state tournament. The Warhawks missed out by just four strokes.

All of which seem like a possibility, because Elliott is pretty hard not to recognize now.

“All of this has definitely motivated me,” Elliott said. “I now know just how good of a golfer I can be, which is still kind of crazy because when I was younger, I never thought I would be the one getting all the attention.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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