Community support made the difference

In his 16 years as the head golf coach at Whitefish High School, Terry Nelson has guided his teams to a combined total of 18 state championships and has instructed some of the best individual golfers Montana has produced.

Nelson has built the program into a national power during his tenure, watching the girls' team win 15 state championships - including a current streak of seven in a row, the nation's longest.

Nelson certainly won't take all of the credit, though. He says that without the support of the community, the program probably would not be where it is today.

"It's a good feeling knowing that we have a good program," Nelson said. "But there are a lot of people involved. The support from the community and the golf course makes it easier."

The Whitefish Lake Golf Course has been very generous in helping Nelson. He said that the course gives the kids the time they need to develop their games without a gripe.

Another reason, Nelson said, would have to be the popularity of the community-funded junior golf program in Whitefish, one that sees about 300 kids participate each summer. The proceeds from the Gary Norby Junior Golf Foundation pay for all the lessons during the summers for these young golfers. Some of the kids who participate in the Junior Golf program are as young as 5 years old.

Nelson also won't discount the work of his assistant coaches. He said that Andy Anderson, Mark Shafer and Carroll Lilly have been tremendously helpful in building a winner.

Not only has Nelson coached some of the best Montana golfers, the school has also become a pipeline for players that go on in golf as their career, either playing or teaching the game.

"We have 12 former players that are directly involved as golf professionals," Nelson said. "It's gratifying to see. You hope they enjoyed it enough to want to do something with it."

Some of the best to come through include 1984 graduate Chris Newton, a state champion as well as a two-time state amateur champion. Newton also played in the U.S. Open in the early 1990s. Sally Sisk was a 1983 state champ who went on to play at Texas A&M. Nelson also mentioned his daughter Paula, a former State Am champion, as well as Regan Peschel and Lyndsie Jensen as some of his best. \

As for his top teams, Nelson said that 1993 was probably the greatest. "That 1993 team was the only one that shot under 700 at a state tournament. So that may have been the best."

The 1995 squad was a very unique team, according to the coach. That state championship team featured five players who went on to play college golf. Peschel went to San Francisco, Kelly Foster played at Cal State Northridge. Abby Collins went on to Colorado, Stephanie Foster to Colorado State and Jensen is still playing at Montana State.

"I enjoy the kids, working with the kids," Nelson said. "I think (the success) has to do with the fact that our girls always tend to play more in the summer time than most high schools."

The 2000 Bulldogs didn't get off to a great start, finishing second at last weekend's Missoula Invitational to Great Falls Russell.

"The second day (of the tournament) I was pretty happy, but the first day was kind of an off-day," Nelson said. "The season is just getting going. Sometimes you get a tough start."

Nelson said that there is no reason to panic in Whitefish, that his girls will be ready for an eighth state championship run when the time comes.

"We won it last year and only lost one player from our varsity," he said. "I think we'll be as good if not better than we were last year."

The state tournament will be at the Whitefish Lake golf course in May, which will also help.

"Potentially, (this year's team) has the chance to be one of our best," he said. "From No. 1 to No. 5 we're very good."

But another state title is not Nelson's top goal.

"For me, my goal is trying to keep the interest in golf high, and trying to figure out how to keep the kids involved enough to stay with it."

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