Best still to come from OSU golfer Slama
CORVALLIS — Ellie Slama is almost surely the greatest woman golfer in Oregon State history since the very first — Dayton native Mary Budke, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion in 1972 and the AIAW national collegiate queen in 1974.
Bridging the long gap between the pre-Title IXer and today is Slama, the slender sophomore from South Salem who has carved quite a reputation for herself over the past two years.
As a freshman in 2017-18, Slama set a school single-season scoring average record at 72.79 strokes, capping the year by winning the Oregon Amateur last summer.
As a sophomore this year, she bettered her OSU record with a 72.43 average and set a school mark with seven top-10 finishes in tournaments. Slama won the Trinity Forest Invitational at Southern Methodist, tied for eighth at the Pac-12 championships and tied for 11th in an NCAA regional, which qualified her for the NCAA championships at Fayetteville, Arkansas.
"I played really well this year," Slama says. "I'm proud of the way I finished (at the regional) to qualify for nationals."
Knowing she had to shoot a low score, Slama fired a 6-under-par 66 in the final round of the regional at Cle Elum, Washington, earning herself a ticket to Fayetteville. It was her best round ever in a pressure situation.
"Everything was going for me that day," Slama says. "I was trying to get the team (to nationals), too. Next year, we'll definitely make it."
The wheels fell off at the NCAA championships, Slama skying to a first-round 88. Chalk that up to experience for a young lady on her way up the ranks of amateur golf in the U.S.
Slama comes from a golfing family. Her father, Doug, plays golf nearly every day. Older brother Tim was a fine high school golfer who already has distinguished himself in the golf equipment design world. Her mother, Leilani, plays golf only a few times a year, "but she's athletic enough to keep up with us," Ellie says.
Ellie Slama started chipping and putting at age 4 — that came in handy later — and played her first competitive match at 8. By 11, she was a fixture in Oregon Junior tournaments. By the time she was through, she was a two-time Oregon Junior champion, a two-time Pacific Northwest PGA Sectional champion and a two-time Class 6A high school champion at South Salem. As a senior, playing at Emerald Valley, she won the state title by 19 strokes — a record that is unlikely to be broken.
Between her junior and senior years, Slama put herself on the international map by tying for seventh place at the IMG Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. She had rounds of 73-73-72-73 and finished at 291, the first American and only five strokes behind the champion from Japan.
"I'd played in it since I was 12," Slama says. "It's one of my favorite tournaments. I love playing Torrey Pines and being one of the players in a competitive field.
"I had someone holding the leader board (in her group) the last day. That was one of my breakthrough points, where I was in contention with nationally ranked players. That was a big deal for me."
Both of her parents attended Oregon State. Her brother graduated from OSU this term with a degree in mechanical engineering. The family ties were "a huge part of my decision" to go to OSU, she says. "I've been a Beaver fan my whole life. All I've ever known is Corvallis. When I was looking at colleges, this was my top pick. It all worked out."
"She is such a Beaver," OSU coach Dawn Shockey says. "(The Slamas) were born into this. It's fun to see someone be that successful at a place where it's her heart and soul."
A highlight of Slama's sophomore year at OSU was participation in the Augusta National Women's Amateur in April. She earned the invitation because she was ranked among the nation's top 30 amateurs.
Slama carded rounds of 75 and 78 to finish in a tie for 52nd in the 72-player field and didn't make the cut for the final two rounds on a course in Evans, Georgia. But she got to play a practice round at Augusta National — where the Masters is held — and shot a 4-under 68.
"That was the most enjoyable round of golf I've ever played," Slama says. "I've shot better rounds, but never at a course of that caliber. My dad caddied for me, and my mom and brother were there watching. It was an awesome experience."
Slama had been in the gallery at the 2015 Masters, "but it was completely different when there was no one watching (during her practice round)," she says. "It was gorgeous."
After her best competitive round ever at the NCAA regionals in May, Slama had her worst competitive round ever, participating as an individual in the first round of the NCAA championships at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville.
"Weather conditions were tough, it was a very difficult course, and it's a different dynamic when you're not with your team," Shockey says. "She didn't putt as well as I've seen her putt, and that golf course will eat you up if you're not playing well."
Slama got eaten.
"The wind was crazy," she says. "It was a course you need more practice rounds on. I struggled. I didn't lose hope, but nothing was working, nothing was going my way. It was the worst round I've had in five or six years."
Slama came back with more palatable scores of 78 and 75 in her final two rounds at Fayetteville.
"After the first round, it got better," she says. "The overall experience was awesome. I knew a bunch of girls there already from previous national tournaments. It was fun to see some familiar faces and be able to compete with the best."
Shockey points to two attributes as being integral to Slama's success in golf. One of them is her work on the greens.
"Ellie is one of the best putters I've ever seen," her coach says. "Her touch is unbelievable."
"Putting and chipping are the things I practice the most," Slama says. "My putting is the best part of my game. I need to keep practicing and make sure it stays that way."
The other part is her mental game.
"She believes in herself and her abilities," Shockey says. "She doesn't get down. If she's struggling, she stays patient. What set her apart is there is no fear. She has that confidence where, if she hits it inside 15 feet, it's, 'I'm going to make this putt.' It's scary how many times she makes it.
"She has a head for the game. She has a high golf IQ. She manages courses well. She knows when to go for it and when to lay back."
Getting pounded on the golf course by her brother and dad at a young age helped Ellie develop her steely mental edge.
"They were better than me for a long time," she says. "Competing with players who are better than you humbles you and keeps you wanting to get better. Things slowly got better until I was able to beat them. My confidence is derived from that."
Despite her zeal for competition, Shockey says Slama is "pretty easy to coach."
"You just stay out of the way," Shockey says with a laugh. "She is good at communicating what she needs and what she wants. It's fun to have her on the team. She's self-motivated and driven, and knows what she needs to do."
Slama will defend her Oregon Amateur title June 17-22 at Portland Golf Club. After that is a U.S. Women's Amateur qualifier, the Canadian Women's Amateur July 23-26 in Red Deer, Alberta, and, hopefully, the U.S. Women's Am Aug. 7-11 at West Point, Mississippi.
"Then I'm back here and ready for the start of our fall season at Oregon State," she says. "I'm really excited about our future. We have two recruits (Issy Taylor from Australia and Chayse Gomez of Yorba Linda, California) coming in who are very good. It's going to be a fun season, especially if we get to nationals."
Slama, majoring in kinesiology, is interested in a career as an athletic trainer at the NCAA Division I college level. First, though, she'll take a crack at a pro golf career.
"I'll probably try to go to (LPGA qualifying) school after my senior year," she says.
Her coach won't be surprised by whatever Slama accomplishes.
"She has the potential to be an All-American for us," Shockey says. "She has the game and the potential to be a pro, too. It depends on her. If playing professionally is what she wants, she can definitely do it."