Let's just say golf wasn't the most cool thing to do for Johansen High freshman Christine Uhalde.
She was a beginner in a sport that doesn't often coddle beginners. The game requires time, patience and hard work, and Uhalde didn't enjoy much of anything about it.
"My dad wanted me to practice and I wanted to be with my friends," she said. "I just didn't like golf."
How things change in four years.
Uhalde, now a Johansen senior, thinks golf is the coolest thing since Facebook. She has verbally committed to Fresno State, which will grant her a full scholarship. When she teed it up in the Modesto Metro Conference Championship last week at Dryden Park, she wore a Fresno State cap and her golf bag featured Bulldog clubcovers.
"I didn't get the point of being good at golf," she remembered. "The competition brought out the urge in me to get better."
Uhalde, thus encouraged, threw herself into golf. She became a regular at both the River Oaks Match Play events and The First Tee of Modesto. She even volunteered as a caddie in 2005 and '08 when the Canadian Tour staged tournaments at Del Rio Country Club.
Her gradual development spiked last fall in a stirring postseason campaign:
• A 73 at Creekside to win the MMC by one over then-freshman Shawnee Martinez of Enochs;
• A 73 at Lockeford Springs to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Tournament;
• A 74 at The Reserve at Spanos Park to tie for second at the Section Masters;
• A 74 at the NorCals at Corral de Tierra for fourth place; and
• An 80 for 15th at the State Championships at Red Hill CC in Rancho Cucamonga.
That run made her the Stanislaus District Player of the Year. This season, she averaged .75 of a stroke over par until the MMC Championships, when a mid-round slump cost her a 79 and a runner-up finish to Martinez.
Uhalde has battled the Martinez sisters throughout her prep career. As a freshman, she looked up to Marina, the class of the area at the time. The last two years, she's tangled with Shawnee.
"Having someone really good to play against has helped me," she said. "Shawnee and I are good friends, and she will be great before she's done."
Uhalde's future is locked in place. She weighed offers from UC Davis, San Jose State, Nevada and Cal Poly before settling on the Bulldogs.
"Angie Cates-Moore (the Fresno State coach) is a big reason why I'm going there. She grew on me right away," she said. "Everything was perfect and also close to home."
Today, the spotlight again will target Uhalde, Martinez and the rest as the section Division I tournament convenes at Merced CC (the top three teams and six individuals will qualify for the Section Masters). Last September, Uhalde shot a 76 on that course to win the Merced High Invitational.
But can she match her amazing postseason performance of 2008?
"I definitely feel some pressure. I felt some pressure against Shawnee, and I should shine above the other girls," she said. "I do know that one bad hole and that's the end of it."
Here's a look at the other section tournaments:
• DIVISION IV —East Union senior Jackie Ketner shot a 76 at Stockton's Brookside CC to lead the Lancers to their third straight Valley Oak League title. They'll be closely watched in the eight-team field today at Oakdale CC, but Whitney again is powerful with standout Samantha Stockton. Sagee Palavivatana of Center and Hannah Gregg of Placer also will be featured. The winning team and the top three individuals will advance.
DIVISION V —The small-schools event, to be held Tuesday at Stevinson Ranch, brings together the best of the Valley Foothill League. VFL North champion Escalon (15-0), fresh from its first-ever girls golf title, is led by junior Presli Pilati and senior Samantha Luque while VFL South winner Central Catholic (14-0) counters with seniors Giovanna Pecchenino and Jessica Ferlmann. The VFL counted only the top four scorers during its regular-season matches. Today, the top five count.
"It's going to come down to us and Central Catholic," Escalon coach Rusty Fachner said. "I think our top fours are pretty equal. It could fall to the fifth spot to decide the champion."
The champion and three individual qualifiers will advance to the Section Masters.