By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Jeffrey D. Allred (DeseretNews.com)
Since she was five years old, Katie Perkins had been preparing for moments just like this one. Seeking her third consecutive Class 3A state golf championship May 14 at Bloomington Country Club in St. George, the Desert Hills senior stood over a 20-foot putt with her chances of winning the state tournament hanging in the balance.
The preparation for this big moment began in the St. George Junior Association of Golfers program 12 years ago, when young Katie fell in love with the game. When she was five or six years old, she dabbled in other sports, but she found her home on the links.
“I tried a bunch of different sports, but I didn’t really like anything like I liked golf,” Perkins said. “It kind of came naturally for me, and I had an awesome swing coach who just encouraged me. Being able to compete with the older girls and be good against then, that was kind of fun.”
The JAG program gave Perkins that chance to test herself against the older age groups, and that competition surely led to the rapid development in her level of play.
“I started in the JAG program and I just loved it,” Perkins said. “I played with all my friends. I got moved up to the older age group when I was 10, so I played with the 13 and 14 year olds. When I was 11, I played with the 15 to 17 year olds. I was competing with them pretty good. That’s how it started, in the JAG program.”
That program has taken Perkins to a number of venues, both in and outside the state, including some of the more notable golf courses in the country. She has also participated in the US Kids golf program.
I got to go out to Torrey Pines, in California, and Pinehurst in North Carolina,” Perkins said. I’ve been all over. I’ve been in Hawaii and on travel teams to represent Utah a number of times, and that’s been the best thing ever.”
From among the courses she has played, Perkins struggles to pick one as her favorite.
“That’s hard. Probably Pinehurst in North Carolina,” Perkins said. “The pros have been there, so just being there overall. I didn’t play my best golf because I was 11 years old, but I still was ranked pretty good for being 11, so I was pretty happy.”
2015 State Championships
Perkins prepared to hit that 20-foot putt knowing that she was sitting on two consecutive individual state titles, and she was trying to make it three in a row. The only time she did not win the 3A state championship was her freshman year, when she finished second.
“It was just a big motivation,” Perkins said in describing her reaction to that No. 2 finish. “I wasn’t upset with myself that year. I wasn’t angry at anyone. It was such a motivation to just get better and not to let anyone beat me after that. I just wanted it that much more.”
That motivation may well have come into play this year. The senior thought she had lost it with a double bogey on the 17th hole on the second day of the state tournament (the first time Utah has held a two-day event for the girls golf championships).
“After the 17th hole, a short Par 3, I kind of just gave up,” Perkins said. “I doubled and I was pretty much handing her the tournament. I was really angry at myself, so I just looked at it as one more hole, let’s get one more par or get a birdie. When I made that long 20-foot par putt, I think it put pressure on her for the little five-footer that she had to make. I think I just made the right putt and the right move at the right time. I’m not sure if it was bad luck for her or good luck for me or what.”
That forced a playoff between Perkins and Pine View’s Taylor Bandley, with both sitting on two-day scores of 147 and the Thunder senior delivered on the extra hole to claim yet another state championship. For Desert Hills head coach Laurie Dyer, the combination of a two-day event and the playoff for the individual title combined to test the nerves.
“It (two-day vs. one-day tournament) was way more stressful. Can I just say that?” Dyer said. “I was good after Day 1, but we’ve never done a two-day event, so it was a first-ever for us. It was really stressful on us, it was stressful on the girls. The four scores that counted the first day weren’t the same four scores as the second day.
“There were a lot of dramatics this year. With the crowds around and the unbelievable par she pulled off on the second day just to get into the playoff. It was a lot of dramatics. I’m not sure what spectators think. The girls stay very focused for very long periods of time so at the end of each hole, it’s ‘Whew, it’s over.’ I had to tell Katie, it’s not, you have more golf to play.”
Perkins also noted the stress she felt, but she was well prepared to handle it.
“The most stressful day ever,” Perkins said. “I just remembered what my coach told me. She said ‘No matter what, I’m going to be proud of you. No matter what, you know that you’re a great golfer. You’ve already got yourself a scholarship.’ She just kind of encouraged me and said the right things and was calm about it. I was playing against my really good friend, so I would have been happy either way, whether she won or I won. I don’t really know exactly what I told myself. It just worked.”
Growing Up As A Golfer
Dyer, who has been coaching the team for seven years, is the only girls golf coach Desert Hills has ever had and her teams have won six straight state championships. The last four of those teams have been led by Perkins, and the coach has seen a lot of changes with her star performer during that time.
“Katie’s been different. There’s just something about Katie, that she has,” Dyer said. “She’s just been tremendous and she’s been a terrific team player and very supportive and instrumental in making us feel like we’re a family. Over the years, she’s really honed her skill and became mentally tough on the course. She doesn’t let things bother her like she did her freshman year.”
That is one of the reasons Perkins has been so hard to beat on the biggest stage, at the state tournament. Dyer is convinced that there is something inside Perkins that drives her to that elite level.
“She has the desire to be the very best and she works really hard to excel at it,” Dyer said. “Some people desire it and want it, but nobody puts in the work that Katie has, since she was six years old, to be a terrific golfer.”
The senior three-time state title winner relied on one of her strongest character traits to pull out this year’s championship.
“It’s just my mental attitude,” Perkins said. “I used to get really down on myself after a bad shot, but then I realized it’s really not about that shot, but it’s the next one. I’m always reminding myself what the next one will be like. The best part about my game is when I am working toward something or I’m down to somebody, I can kind of like kick it into gear and make myself reach my goal. That’s been a huge lifesaver sometimes, like the state tournaments and stuff.”
Perkins has done a lot of winning over the last 12 years, and while some of those association tournaments got her on the radar with college recruiters, she attaches great significance to the successes of her high school team.
“A lot of colleges don’t look at state championships as much of a big deal, just because they’re red tees and in college you play white,” Perkins said. “It’s not huge college-wise, but I think winning a state championship is a lot cooler than winning like a local junior association tournament. I guess it just depends on what it’s for. If it’s a qualifier, then obviously it would mean more.”
She works with a swing coach regularly, and has since she first picked up the clubs, but Perkins has a special place in her heart for her high school coaches.
“I’ve always been really close with my high school coaches,” Perkins said. “They’ve been awesome to me and really taken the mental aspect of my game and helped me out. They’re really encouraging. I know that our coaches play a huge role in our team this year and all four of my years.”
When it comes to skill development, Perkins gives much of the credit to that swing coach, Kevin Averett. She has spent a lot of time on the course improving her game, and he has been there all along.
“I’ve had a swing coach, Kevin Averett, for as long as I’ve played golf (12 years) and he works with me, so every day’s a little bit different,” Perkins said. “I go out there right after school for three or four hours and then in summer I get up early in the morning and get out there until it’s too hot. It’s always working on something different, fundamentals a lot too.”
The Next Level
Next up for Perkins is Utah Valley University, where she is looking forward to teeing it up beginning in the fall. She loves the school and the people she’s met when she visited campus and researched the women’s golf program.
“Just the people and my coach, Sue Nyhus, she’s awesome,” Perkins said. “(Looking forward to) being able to travel around the world really and represent Utah Valley as well as I’ve represented Desert Hills.”
If things go the way she hopes, Perkins is hopeful that her competitive golfing career will extend beyond the four years she spends on that Orem campus. She would like to see her work on the course pay off in a professional career.
“I definitely want to go past college,” Perkins said. “My goal is to win a few college tournaments, whether it’s my first year or my second year, and just get recognized and get where I need to be to give myself an opportunity to play on the LPGA, or just try to qualify for one of those tournaments would be awesome for me.”