June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Ellenbogen is enjoying her summer on road

WESTFIELD CENTER — Most 16-year-old girls are spending their summer bathing in the sun, dipping in the pool and hanging out with friends.

Courtney Ellenbogen has spent 28 of her 35 vacation days on the road. It may be exhausting to an average teenager, but Ellenbogen’s too busy winning big-time golf tournaments to worry about the grind.

Less than two weeks ago, the Blacksburg, Va. resident was teeing it up with the best golfers in the world at the 62nd U.S. Women’s Open.

Needing a 45-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club to make the cut, Ellenbogen watched intently as her lengthy roll came 1/16th of an inch short of falling in the cup. She ended up missing the cut by one stroke, tying World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster in the process.

A week later, Ellenbogen won a prestigious junior event, the Rolex Tournament of Champions, by five strokes over Kristen Park and Vicky Hurst, who is also at Westfield Junior PGA Championship this week.

Now hitting the links at Westfield Group Country Club’s South Course, the priceless experience of competing with the best women in the world has done wonders for Ellenbogen’s confidence.

“I think it brings a good mindset of shooting low scores like they do on tour,” said Ellenbogen, who enjoys playing the piano when off the course. “It helps bringing things into perspective more and makes you feel like you can compete on this level.”

Ellenbogen can compete; she’s currently one of the hottest players on the junior circuit.

Currently sixth in the Polo Golf rankings, the daughter of former NFL player Bill Ellenbogen has seen her name on leaderboards all season.

Along with winning the Rolex Tournament of Champions on Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course, Ellenbogen took first at the Mizuno Junior at Chateau Elan and finished in the top five in three other tournaments.

In Ellenbogen’s career, she’s amassed two hole-in-ones — one when she was 11 in a local tournament from 121 yards out with a 7-iron, and one at a sectional qualifier for the 2006 U.S. Women’s Open from 180 yards out with a 7-wood — took home the 2006 trophy at the Virginia State Junior Golf Championship and competed twice in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

Shooting a career-low round of 65 less than a month ago only added to the resume.

When it came to talking about competing in her first Westfield Junior PGA, Ellenbogen couldn’t say enough about the top-notch treatment from the host course.

“It’s been a special experience,” said Ellenbogen, a straight-A student at Blacksburg High. “The course is close to perfect and they treat you like you’re at the PGA championships.”

Standing 5-foot-2, Ellenbogen isn’t near the longest drivers in the event with her 240-yard tee shots that stripe the fairway, but has all the short-game skills to make up for the lack of power

In her second practice round, she spun no less than six approach shots within five feet of the cup, holed out from the rough along side the green and spent the rest of her time studying the difficult, rolling greens that make Westfield challenging.

“I think, as in any tournament, the person who putts the best will win,” Ellenbogen said when asked what the key to victory would be. “There are a few tight fairways and you have to drive the ball well.”

With Ellenbogen on the top of her game, making putts and driving fairways shouldn’t be a problem. However, if an adverse situation does arise, you can bet she’ll take it head on.

Ellenbogen’s played with the best of the best, so there will be no rookie nerves. There is one goal on her mind: victory.

“I just want to go out and win and give it my all,” Ellenbogen said. “I’ll take it as seriously as other tournaments.

“I don’t like to lose, so I’m going to try and win this one.”

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.