Morgan Polley — the No. 1 girl golfer at Clovis East High School — knows how to shake off a bad round.
“I come back and work harder, and I use the disappointment like fuel to keep going,” she said. “I don’t look at it as a loss. I look at it as a learning experience.”
Polley possesses a tough-minded view of the game she’s loved since she was a little girl playing with her grandfather.
The 16-year-old junior leads a young Clovis East team — the 2016 squad has four juniors and two sophomores. They’re working to compete with Clovis West, Clovis North and Buchanan high schools, perennial powerhouses in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
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This year’s TRAC Player of the Year, Madison Nii, plays for Clovis West.
Confidence is what the Timberwolves need, head coach Pete Price said: “It’s knowing that you can play with the other schools. We’re changing the mindset, and our players are buying into it. They’re really believing in themselves.”
Polley and junior Caitlyn Jimenez, Clovis East’s No. 2 player, help by providing leadership to their teammates: juniors Paige Terrence and Kaelyn Xiong and sophomores Alyssa Camacho and McKenzie Quinn.
Polley got her first set of clubs when she was 4. They were made of foam. At 6, she had a regular set, and she was playing every Saturday with her grandfather. He was her first teacher, and she was a willing student.
“I liked seeing the ball fly really high and the sound of it going in the hole,” Polley said. “From early on, my family could see the passion I had for the game.”
She continued to play through elementary school, her skills and confidence growing. But upon joining the golf team at Reyburn Intermediate School, she experienced — in her words — “a reality check. It dawned on me, ‘Oh man. There are people better than me. I need to work harder so I’ll get better.’ ”
Polley has never shied away from competition — either with herself or others. “I try to work hard at everything I do,” she said.
At Reyburn, Polley said, she “absorbed” all the instruction she got from her coach, Jim Brough, and she’s doing the same at Clovis East. Coach Price learned to play as a boy from his grandmother, Florence Price, a California women’s champion in the 1930s. He is the former athletic director at Clovis East and Buchanan.
Assistant coach J.T. Smart, a Clovis East graduate and a teaching professional, is Polley’s swing coach.
Polley started her varsity career as a freshman, and as a sophomore she advanced to the Southern California Regionals, one step away from the state championships. Jimenez missed going to the regionals by one stroke on a tiebreaker.
So far this year, Polley’s play has led to her All-League selection along with Aya Enkoji, Taylor Dufresne and Allyson Musser of Clovis West, Tammy Lim of Clovis North and Serena Dimauro of Central High School.
Polley is comfortable as one of the TRAC top players. “I love pressure. It pushes me to my highest point of ability,” she said. In fact, she plays better in tournaments than in practice rounds.
Polley would like to play golf at a top Division 1 college (University of North Carolina is currently her first choice) and then play on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour.
To hone her skills, she’s been known to practice during rainfall.
“Any conditions,” Polley said with a laugh. “I want to play in snow.”
She also plays in the summer and on winter breaks with the Junior Golf Association of Northern California.
Away from the golf course, Polley said, she’s “a family girl.” Her parents are William and DeLane Polley, and she has an 11-year-old brother, Jonathon. She enjoys church activities and cooking, and her favorite sports movies are “Rocky” and “Hoosiers.”
Polley’s goal this year is to make it to the state championships. To get there, golfers must do well in a series of end-of-season tournaments.
The first one for TRAC golfers was the North Area Tournament on Oct. 24 in Madera.
Polley and teammates Camacho, Jimenez and Xiong qualified in Madera for the Central Section individual tournament on Oct. 31 at the Kings Country Club in Hanford.
Price said he’s excited that four players from Clovis East qualified. “The quality of high school girls golf being played in our section is exceptional and exciting to watch,” Price said. “This is a great opportunity for my girls to play against the best the section has to offer.”
Players with top scores in Hanford advance to the Southern California Regionals on Nov. 10 in San Bernardino. The state championship is Nov. 15 in Rancho Cucamonga.
Polley is hopeful about her chances. “I just have to work a little bit harder, and I’ll bet I can make it to state,” she said.
Clovis West won the North Area team title in Madera to advance to the Central Section team tournament on Oct. 31 in Hanford. Teams from Buchanan and Clovis North also qualified for Hanford.
Players from those teams are:
Clovis West — Claire Shubin, Kayla Terrey, Dufresne, Enkoji, Musser, and Nii.
Buchanan — Mia Goudy, Lexi Lawrence, Mattie Millwee, Jocelyn Twet, Megan Will and Grace Yong.
Clovis North — Sloane Bayer, Alyssa Bendure, Caitlyn Bone, Kellie Stebbins, Caroline Swanson and Lim.
(Boys golf teams compete in the spring of each school year.)