Cook wins 3A golf title

By Nathan Oster

In a span of about 15 months, Greybull teen Erika Cook went from shanking tee shots and hating the sport of golf to becoming a state champion and leading Lovell High School to the first state golf title in school history.

The daughter of Casey and Angela Cook, Erika and her Bulldog teammates capped a storybook season at last weekend's State 3A Golf Championships in Evanston, where Erika, a freshman, overcame a severe case of nerves and inclement final round weather to win the girls division by seven strokes.

Cook shot a 76 in Friday's opening round, which left her a stroke up on the field heading into the last day. When the weather took a turn on Saturday, forcing golfers to contend with cooler temps, wind and rain, it was the freshman who held up best in the midst of adversity.  She finished the round with an 80 for a two-day total of 156.

As a team, Lovell finished at 555, two strokes better than Wheatland and 11 ahead of Green River.

Coach Craig Lundberg said Monday he was "still a little amazed and taken aback" by the team title.

"I really tried to have the girls not focus on the end result but instead just focus on golfing to their potential and their averages and if we did that I told them we might have a chance," he said. "I knew that Green River was pretty solid and Wheatland had beat us in Buffalo a few weeks ago pretty easily and I knew they would be pretty confident."

"Both Erika, Adessa (Lundberg), and Alex (Walker) turned in solid rounds on the first day and we were six strokes back so I knew we would need to hold it together on day two to give us a chance."

Then came the wind and rain. Lundberg said he knows that adverse conditions affect players differently.  As the day progressed, he saw his girls persevere while others faltered. "Everyone played great on day two and it just all came together in the end. It actually came down to our last three holes for every girl and they did what they needed to do to get the job done."

Cook's performance set the tone.  Based on the scores she posted during the summer, Lundberg said he knew that Cook had the potential to contend for a state title as a freshman.

"What I did not know was how she might handle the pressure that gets added when it is for a state championship," he said. "Early on in the season when things got tough I had seen her kind of mentally struggle but I also saw her change the last three weeks of the season and something just clicked.

"She still had the nerves and was still nervous but she realized that those are things that everyone has and that makes you normal. She does have a cool story about her nerves getting the best of her on day two at the tee box.  She had the dry heaves before she teed off and had to go stand in the bushes for a minute.

"But at the state tournament Erika was the definition of consistency.  That set her apart from the rest of the group. Other girls had a few bad holes here and there and if I go back and look I think she had one hole the entire tournament that gave her trouble and after that hole she came back and eagled the next so she made up for it in a hurry. Being consistent and having a killer instinct really set her apart. She knew that if she kept playing well she could distance herself. She just goes for it if she sees someone vulnerable and puts the pressure on."


Humble origins

Golf didn't come easily for Erika at first.

"I tried it and hated it, so I quit," she said, laughing. "I sucked."

Fortunately for her, she decided to give it another try. That was in July of 2019.

"My dad taught me the basics, and once I started hitting the ball better, it became a lot more fun."

Erica, who is home schooled, said she didn't really get serious about the sport until this past summer.  Encouraged by the way she was playing and not interested in playing volleyball, she decided to join the LHS golf team. As the season progressed and she grew more comfortable, her scores improved.

Fast forward to the second day of the state tournament.  The round began on Hole No. 10 and Erika started slowly, double bogeying one of first few holes. But grouped with her closest pursuers, she could see that they, too, were struggling.

"I just kept calm, tried to forget about (the double bogey) and move on," she said.

She had already built on her one-stroke lead by the time she reached No. 5. A chip-in eagle removed any doubts in her mind or the minds of her competitors about who is the best 3A golfer in the state.

Erika said she's played basketball in the past but will probably pass on it this winter, when she hopes to attend a six-week golf academy in Las Vegas.   She thinks her short game "is better than most" of her rivals, but struggles off the tee and is determined to improve in that area.

Her dream is to golf professionally, but before that, she has three years left as a Lovell Bulldog.

"If Erika keeps working on her golf game she is going to be unbelievable. She has a very rare opportunity as far as high school to do some amazing things," said Lundberg. "If she continues to work tirelessly on her game and still love the process of getting better she is going to be scary. Her future is honestly as bright as she wants it to be. The future of the LHS golf team is in great hands for sure. Hopefully seeing this success will make others want to be a part of it and we can get a few more lady golfers out there. With her and Alex at the center of the team next year I know that they can be very successful moving forward and I am excited that I can join along for the ride."