LAUREL — As Breana Jensen worked on her game at Exchange City Par 3 Golf Course in Billings last month, a stranger noticed her Laurel Locomotives golf bag.
The passerby congratulated Jensen on her team’s success in recent years and for Jensen, who is heading into her senior year at Laurel, it was a bit of an "aha" moment. Not that she and her teammates haven’t reflected now and then on their three consecutive Class A girls golf championships. How could you not?
But having someone you don’t know applaud what you’ve done, well, that just brings it home a little bit more.
“It feels amazing that people actually recognize and see you from the newspapers and stuff,” Jensen said on a day when she and fellow seniors Hannah and Haylee Adams gathered at Laurel Golf Club to discuss the three championships and what’s ahead. “It just really motivates me to do even better this year to achieve the goal of a state championship.”
Four team championships in a row would be something, and the Adams twins have been there since the beginning. In 2018, as freshmen, Hannah finished fourth and Haylee fifth at state to help the Locomotives start this run. Hannah then won the individual title in 2019, while her sister finished third, despite having to take a two-stroke penalty for a mishap in some trees.
And last year, all the Locomotives did was shatter the Class A girls scoring record by putting four golfers in the top eight. By this time freshman Alivia Webinger had burst onto the scene and she finished second at state, followed by Hannah Adams (third), Haylee Adams (fourth) and Jensen (eighth).
In a way, title No. 3 was a bit anticlimactic. The Locomotives went into the tournament full of confidence, and when they woke up on Day 2 with a 57-stroke lead, things already seemed settled.
The Locomotives went on to win by 96 strokes and the lack of drama meant there was precious little nervous excitement to unleash. In fact, Laurel coach Jim O’Neil at the time good-naturedly likened his team’s celebration — or lack thereof — to a “funeral procession.”
The attempt at a potential fourth title should be more challenging. Webinger suffered a serious knee injury playing basketball and will miss the golf season, leaving the Adamses, Jensen and Molly Cooney, a junior, to soldier on.
Webinger’s absence doesn’t mean expectations have changed, however.
“It’s the last year, it’s one that you want to make special,” Hannah Adams said. “We worked hard for three years to get to this point and so it’s really special. We’re going to try to do everything we can to win that fourth one.”
And if they don’t? Well, that’s the way things go, the players said. In golf, at least, there is only so much you can control.
“If we don’t do it, we don’t do it,” Haylee Adams said. “As long as we’re having fun and getting better constantly … It’d probably be a little disappointing if we didn’t (win state), but, like, three in a row? That’s pretty good.”
So what makes this program tick?
O’Neil said it’s simple: The players have bought into being part of a team. Yes, golf is an “individual” sport, but O’Neil said his players are good at setting aside a bad shot or a bad hole and quickly regrouping. There’s no room for self-pity, since every stroke matters.
Jensen is a good example of that. She virtually disappeared last summer, spending countless hours on the course playing with her stepfather, Brad Fox. Instead of spending most of her time on the driving range or the putting green, Jensen wanted to work on her scoring ability.
To do that, she said, she had to play round after round, playing every shot where it lay. No gimmes, no mulligans.
The result was Jensen improved from her 38th spot at state in 2019 to that top-10 finish last year.
“That summer we didn’t see her at all,” Haylee Adams said. “Even Mr. O’Neil was worried because he didn’t hear from her or anything. He was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to have her on the team.’”
Not only was she on the team, Jensen made the team better. That commitment will be needed again this season, though O’Neil isn’t worried about that. He just doesn’t want his players to put too much pressure on themselves by thinking a missed fourth title would be a sign of failure.
“That isn’t going to define them, they’ve already written their legacy,” O’Neil said. “They’re neat kids, just great girls. I’m so proud of this group.”