All-Empire Golf Player of the Year: Game hooked Pumas star Begert-Hellings

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat Windsor junior Hailey Begert-Hellings is The Press Democrat All-Empire Girls Golf Player of the Year.

CRISTA JEREMIASON / The Press Democrat
Maria Carrillo junior Hailey Begert-Hellings is The Press Democrat All-Empire Girls Golf Player of the Year.

Kicking a soccer ball, swinging a golf club, Hailey Begert-Hellings was a young athlete of two minds.

After dividing her youthful play for a handful of years, golf grabbed her as a teenager.

A demanding game even for the daughter of longtime golfers suddenly became simple for Begert-Hellings. Swinging a crooked stick with confidence was her sport.

“That’s when I said I can really do this. That’s when I got hooked,” she recalled of the summer before eighth grade.

Now the Maria Carrillo high junior is The Press Democrat All-Empire Girls Golf Player of the Year. Shooting well below the region’s prep low scorers, Begert-Hellings capped her season with a section finals finish that left her just one shot short of the Northern California championships.

With her steady play in the biggest matches, Begert-Hellings could be poised for one of the Empire’s best seasons ever in her senior campaign.

“She definitely can attain that,” said Maria Carrillo coach Michael Balasek. “She was very calm and prepared for the courses. She’s hard to rattle. That’s what you want in golf.”

An All-Empire selection as both a freshman and sophomore, Begert-Hellings was expected to lead perennial power Maria Carrillo to another strong season.

But to play with Northern California’s prep standouts, Empire golfers must commit to a challenging practice and tournament schedule to raise their level of play.

Working out a handful of times each week and playing a few more summer tournaments helped Begert-Hellings hone a sharper all-around game. Her drives were longer, putts steadier, and the short shots more consistent.

“It’s really rewarding when you’ve been practicing and you hit that great shot on the course. It’s a good feeling,” she said.

Highlights on the season included leading Maria Carrillo to a fifth straight North Bay League title. Her average score was nearly four shots better than the next player on the leader board, a remarkable gap.

Then came the back nine she shot at Windsor Golf Course in the North Coast Section Tournament of Champions. Begert-Hellings went 1-over par after sinking a birdie on the final hole. She finished one shot out of qualifying for the NorCal championships.

“It was kind of a bummer that I didn’t go farther, but it was cool,” she said.

Cool as in no big deal. Because come fall Begert-Hellings should get another shot at the section finals. With continued improvement in shaving strokes from her scores, she could make the coveted NorCal championships.

What drives her is experience playing some of the best in summer tournaments and the major prep events.

“She’s a quiet competitor,” Balasek said.

Long-limbed and lithe with a beaming smile, Begert-Hellings is a skilled athlete and a good sport. She cares about teammates’ success as much as hers.

“We’re all really excited when someone shoots a low score,” she said. “It makes me feel good and want to do better.”

A challenging summer is ahead. Begert-Hellings plans to enter more tournaments on the Northern California junior circuits. Playing often unfamiliar courses demands steady course management to keep scores near par.

Conditioning is a greater focus. More running, weight training, and work on improving flexibility — perhaps a season with the Maria Carrillo swim team — also helps prepare her for college competition.

“She does have a high ceiling,” Balasek said.

Touring college campuses over spring break has Begert-Hellings looking ahead, yet not past a final year of prep play.

“I’m definitely going to push myself more this year,” she said. “I’m going to put a lot more effort into this season to see how far I can take it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

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