Jacqueline Putrino, a sophomore golfer at Riverview High, had a chance to win the Class 3A individual championship at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, held on Oct. 29-30. She was three strokes better than second-place Madison Hewlett of East Lake High, so she had some breathing room, and the putt was from two feet.
Putrino was nervous all the same. This was the biggest win she had ever, potentially, had. Putting would make it real.
She sank it, finishing at 5-under-par 136. In the aftermath, she felt relief, not elation, she said.
Two days later, Putrino was back on the course, ostensibly practicing for the Florida Junior Tour Championship, held this weekend at Palm Harbor's Innisbrook Resort, but really practicing because there was nowhere else she would rather be.
"Those two days off felt like an eternity," Putrino said. "I hated it."
Putrino didn't get this way by herself. Her mother, Regina Putrino, played golf at Auburn and gives her tips, and she works with swing coach and former LPGA golfer Paige Dunlap Halpin. Putrino said Dunlap Halpin has helped her with her swing plane, keeping things aligned and minimizing the effect of her rare bad shots. She also helped Putrino realize the consequences of letting your emotions get the best of you on the course. That's why Putrino didn't feel much until she reached the final hole: She has trained keep her calm.
She also has the support of teammates such as Aaron Whitley, a junior who finished tied for fifth overall at the state meet (143). (The Rams finished third as a team.) Whitley said she knew Putrino was going to win the tournament before Putrino did. When Putrino led after day one, it was a wrap. She was not going to blow the lead once she had it, Whitley said. That's not who Putrino is.
"She is a good golfer, but she is also so competitive," Whitley said. "She is super focused. When she's practicing, she is always working hard on her game. She will even tell me that I need to focus more (during practice)."
Even a champion likes to have fun now and again, sometimes too much. Whitley laughed recalling a time this summer when Putrino was driving Whitley, teammate Rachel Carlson and herself to a hole in a golf cart and took a turn too fast. The cart didn't flip, but the golfers spilled out of it, giving them cuts on their legs. Putrino laughed, too, saying the sprinklers had made the cart path more slippery than she thought.
Putrino learned her lesson driving golf carts, but she has always been a great driver of golf balls. She averages 260 yards on her drives now, she said. That gave her an edge at Mission Inn, a shorter course where Putrino could get up and down with ease after a long drive.
With two years of high school golf left, Putrino has already reached the peak of the sport, but she's not satisfied. She thinks she can go lower. No, she corrects herself — she knows she can. She left a few shots out there during this tournament, she said. All she has to do is clean those up. Staring at her champions medal, which now resides in a glass case in her room, should give her the motivation.
Putrino, like the best golfers, strives for perfection. Also like them, she will never reach it. But for her, the fun is in the chase. That's why she was on the course so soon after her win.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.