Concordia sophomore Sunshine Powers earned co-medalist honors at the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament on Tuesday. - Photo courtesy of Lindsay Aho

Right on Course

When last we checked in with Sunshine Powers, the best high school girl golfer in the region was battling through a tragic senior season.

And battling is an understatement.

The North Medford standout claimed the Southwest Conference championship in 2010 despite losing her father, Bob, to cancer, on the night of the opening round.

The next day, she shot a season-best score.

A week later, she tied for 10th place in the Class 6A tournament, her best showing in a career punctuated by four top-20 state placings.

Then, emotionally drained, she put away her clubs. Not for good, but for a good while.

"My whole heart was to golf for him," Powers says of her father, who taught her to play when she was 4. He was 55 when he passed. "I wanted it so bad.

"When they were doing the announcement at state and I found out I was 10th, I was happy. It was such a big accomplishment. I wish my dad was there to see it, and I think he probably was."

She had already signed a letter of intent to attend Concordia University, an NAIA school in Portland. And it was only a week before she departed for school that she hauled her golf bag out of storage.

"I didn't touch my clubs for three months," she says.

She mulled over her plans. The private school was expensive. What kind of financial aid could she expect? And, did she really want to play golf? Education seemed more important.

"I was encouraged by my friends and family that I should do what I loved no matter how many loans I have to take out," says Powers. "I'm pretty sure my dad would have wanted me to take golf as far as I can."

The thought of giving up a partial golf scholarship, she decided, was the worst idea.

Off she went, and she couldn't be happier.

Powers, a sophomore for the Cavaliers, has evolved into one of the top golfers in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

She tied for medalist honors Tuesday in the conference tournament, shooting a 7-over-par 151 for two days at Diamond Woods Golf Club in Monroe. It was her second title this spring and her eighth top-five finish in 11 tournaments through the fall and spring seasons.

Powers has a scoring average of 77.48, and if she finishes strong in the regional tournament Monday and Tuesday in San Diego and at nationals next month in Greenville, Tenn., she could become the first Cavalier sophomore to make All-American.

Only the regional team winner is guaranteed a berth at nationals. At-large spots are then doled out. Concordia, winner of five straight CCC crowns, has advanced to nationals each of head coach Ronn Grove's previous four seasons, placing as high as fifth in 2010.

The Cavaliers were 13th at nationals in Powers' freshman year, when she made the all-CCC team with the third-best scoring average of 80.46.

Powers impressed her coaches from the moment she arrived. She did so with her playing ability, her focused approach to the game and an unflappable personality that serves her well in a game that can be confounding.

As assistant coach Lindsay Aho says, not dwelling on bad things that happen on a golf course is a good thing.

"The people who struggle the most," says Aho, "are the perfectionists. They want things to be perfect, and golf definitely isn't a game of perfect."

Nothing, says Aho, seems to faze Powers.

Aho was a two-time All-American for the Cavaliers before joining the coaching staff as a graduate assistant last season. She was flabbergasted when the freshman Powers hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation during a fall tournament in Canada.

"I don't think I ever hit over 15 in a round," says Aho.

Despite Powers' stellar iron play and ability to outdrive most of her teammates even though she's only 5-foot-2, her short-game shortcomings were evident. In the round where she hardly missed any greens, she shot 4-over 76.

Aho's specialty is the short game, and she and Powers have devoted much time to it the past 11/2; years.

In one drill, players must make 100 putts in a row from 3 feet. They do it in intervals of 25, switching over to longer lag putts in between.

"When you get close to 25, you're excited because you're about to finish," says Powers. "Then all of sudden, you miss one by a little bit and it lips out. You have to start the interval all over again. The first time I did the drill, it took me 10 minutes to make five in a row. I thought I'd never get to 25."

For chipping, teammates pair off and had up-and-down competition, seeing who can chip onto the green and one-putt most often.

In high school, courses play at shorter distances. Powers often had only a wedge into greens after booming her drives.

In college, those approach shots became longer, she missed more greens initially, and her short game was exposed.

She's since shored that up.

"We're still trying to get her putts down," says Aho. "Once she does that, and I know she can, I don't think anybody will be able to stop her."

A perfect example of how well-rounded Powers' game has become was at the CCC tournament this week.

In her first-round 75, she only hit eight greens, but she chipped well enough that she needed only 29 putts.

The next day, she hit 16 greens and shot one stroke worse, meaning her putting wasn't as sharp.

"If I miss greens, I still have confidence I can shoot low because of my work on my short game," says Powers.

Her short-term goal is to back up her co-medalist performance in conference with a strong showing at regionals.

Her long-term goal is to pursue professional golf.

"I'm really happy," she says. "I didn't think I could ever make it this far in golf."

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email

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