The golf maturation of Shawnee Martinez continues. It's ongoing, she figures, from the first time she ever picked up a club to, well, her final putt.
The Enochs High sophomore won't turn 16 until February, so time works in her favor.
Besides, why stress about the game that lasts a lifetime?
"I need to practice not so much on my swing but on my strategy," Martinez said earlier this month. "I have to get down what I think about before each shot."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
What goes undisputed here is that Martinez so far has steered straight and true on the golf course. When she solved The Reserve At Spanos Park in 1-under-71 for co-medalist honors at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Championship -- thus advancing to NorCals -- she reached the top tier of prep golf before she turned sweet 16.
So it's no surprise that she's The Bee's 2009 Stanislaus District Girls Golfer of the Year.
Martinez has noticed tangible improvement in her game over the past year. For starters, she's 10 to 15 yards longer off the tee and about five yards longer with her irons. No longer is putting an automatic minus.
Thus, she overcomes golf's inevitable setbacks. She bounced back from a slow start for a 73 at Dryden to win the Modesto Metro Conference title.
Though she choked back tears after her 80 for third place at the Section Championship at Merced Country Club, she answered one week later by nearly acing The Reserve's par-3 15th en route to the Masters title.
Her big day blunted her disappointment as a freshman, when she missed in a playoff to make NorCals. Righting that wrong became a priority.
Martinez attributes some of her progress to her friendly rivalry with Johansen senior Christine Uhalde -- The Bee's 2008 Player of the Year, who will attend Fresno State next fall.
Their duel ignited wonderful competition -- the angular Uhalde, hitting it high and long and producing steady scores, vs. Martinez, shorter off the tee but more explosive.
"She (Uhalde) is a good friend," Martinez said. "We just played together at a tournament in Santa Cruz. Neither of us played well, but we made it fun. She has gained a lot in the last three years. She hits it about 50 yards by me, but I think I'm catching up."
Perhaps Martinez's best ally is the knowledge that there are so many steps to take in this endlessly intriguing game.
"I figured out what happened to my putting a little too late this season," she said. "I always figure out what's wrong at the end of the round."
Time is your friend, Shawnee.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2302.