COLUMBIA — Coach Melissa Melahn made a strong statement at the beginning of the Rock Bridge girls golf season. She’s hoping her team will make one at the end.
During the first meeting of the season, Melahn told her team it had the ability to qualify for the state championships. With a win in the Class 2, District 5 tournament earlier this month, the Bruins will be competing in the 35th MSHSAA Girls Golf State Championships on Monday and Tuesday.
The Bruins last sent a team to state 20 years ago.
“We’re all not trying to get nervous about state,” Melahn said. “We’ve had our focus on the district tournament because it’s been so long since it has happened to our program. We certainly have the potential to go to state and be one of those top competitive teams.”
She credits the William Woods tournament, which happened about two weeks before district, as a good moment for the Bruins season. Her team was two strokes away from setting a school record, and she thinks that helped them push each other to be even better.
No. 1 Meghan Mueller, a junior, and No. 2 Kayla Burri, a senior, who both competed individually last season at state, lead the team.
In high school, the number of strokes needed to complete the last five competitions determines rank. The difference between the two is less than a half a stroke.
“At the start of the season, it was a stroke or a stroke-and-a-half,” Melahn said. “Kayla got back in the swing of things, literally. They are so close. One day, one will shoot a 39 and the other a 40, and the next day it’s the exact opposite. They probably haven’t been separated by four or five strokes, max, spread-wise.”
Off the course, however, they’re quite different.
Mueller began golfing at age 7 when her grandfather cut down one of his old clubs to her height. He then gave her a few plastic balls to hit around. She began competing with one of her grandmother’s old set of clubs before her family bought her a set of clubs four years ago. Mueller competed in multiple tours while growing up and is in her sixth season of competing in the Plantations Junior Golf Tour.
She’s also accomplished twice golf’s most challenging shot: a hole in one.
“The first one was amazing because I was so young,” Mueller said. “Most people go their whole lives without getting one. I was 8 or 9.”
The other came in 2007 when she was playing in a tournament in Florida.
“I couldn’t see the hole from where we had teed off from,” Mueller said. “I got up there, and my grandmother started clapping. I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Look in the hole.’ That was pretty intense.”
When Burri was young, she had another passion.
“Music,” she said. “I was seven years old, and my brother got his first guitar. And as soon as I heard him strum, just like a chord, it was the coolest thing to me. I just wanted to learn how to play it from then on. I just had the greatest interest in it.”
Burri knows how to play the acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, piano and saxophone. She has started a group with one of her friends called Irish Chopsticks and hopes to record a CD in the near future with some music she has written.
Burri began competitive golf her sophomore year and, unlike Mueller, doesn’t have a hole in one.
She does have at least one fan.
“She’ll be out in the cafeteria playing the guitar, and I’ll be out there, just listening to her,” Mueller said. “She’s really good. I’ll definitely listen to her if she made a CD, which I hope she does because she’s really good. It’s definitely not something I could do. I know I can’t. I’m the girl that’ll sing in the shower.”
She and Burri have developed a good competitive balance on the course. An example happened in a competition Sept. 8 in Kirksville.
“She had made a bad shot to the left,” Burri said, “and I just told her, ‘Meghan breath.’ Sometimes it’s take a breath or multiple breaths.”
It’s something Mueller relies upon.
“I guess I can kind of get intense,” she said. “We walk together a lot (during competitions), so she’ll be near me when I hit the shot. I’ll get mad, and I’ll look over at her, and she knows what she needs to say to get me to calm down.”
It's something Melahn is thankful for.
“I try to stay out of things in the course of play,” she said. “I’m not out there for every shot. They have to figure out how to encourage one another, direct one another. In terms of individuals and personalities, I’d say they’re drastically different, which is why it’s fun to see them play that give and take on the golf course. All that other stuff goes away and out here they’re just teammates and golfers.”
Also competing for the Bruins are senior Hadley Thompson, sophomore Morgan Reimler and freshman Kaitlyn Marsh.