A lot has changed since then.
In fact, in just over a year, Bird went from being a green-golfer to a golfer with a knack on the greens — and tees, and fairways.
Monday and Tuesday, the Purnell Swett senior will compete in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association girls golf state meet, held on Pinehurst No. 6.
“Practice, practice, practice,” Bird said, explaining how she came to be a state-qualifier. She shot an 86 (44-42) at the NCHSAA Central Region tournament at Pinehurst No. 8 to advance to state. “I knew all the time I put in and all the time (Swett coach) Jamie Locklear put in, and just the sacrifices he’s made … I had to be at state. And that was my goal.”
Coach Locklear knew Bird could blossom into a top-tier golfer the first time he saw her tee off. Two summer ago, Locklear, who had just started the Locklear Golf Academy, was working with youth golfers at the since-shutdown Riverside Golf Course in Pembroke. All-the-while, Bird was ho-hummingly putting along in a Rams softball fundraiser golf tournament.
Locklear caught a glimpse of Bird, who stands 5-foot-11, unleash her long swooping swing on the first hole.
As they say, the rest is history.
“If you see her golf swing, she’s phenomenal,” Locklear said. “She just has the God-given ability to play the game. Her swing is perfet.”
Locklear had to find out where that swing had been this whole time.
“He took me off to the side and said, ‘You know, you need to play golf’,” Bird said.
“I told her, I tell you what,” Locklear said, “what if I give you a golf lesson and you can see if it’s something you want to do.
After about five months I could tell she was going to be something special.”
The only problem was, Swett didn’t have a golf program at the time. So, two years ago, Bird put on her recruiting cap and rounded up enough golfers for the Rams to field a team.
“It was me and Jade Hunt, we really got the girls to come out,” Bird said. “Us two playing promoted it, got the idea in the girls’ heads to come out and play.”
After going through the typical growing pains of a first-year program, Swett really found its stride this fall in its second season. In fact, four Rams, including Bird, qualified for regionals. The other three being Hunt, Taylor Oxendine and Courtney Polston.
Bird’s 2011 campaign has been the highlight for the program.
This fall, the senior has held an 86 average, shaving 20 strokes off her 106 average last year, and routinely drives the ball 265-270 yards off the tee. Before qualifying for regionals and state, she finished third at the Southeastern Conference tournament to earn all-conference status.
Bird is quick to credit Locklear’s coahing for her quick success.
“He’s an awesome coach,” she said. “He’s helped me with the mental part, the physical part. And he’s traveld with me and took out a lot of time with me.”
Bird and Locklear’s last trip of the fall season is to Pinehurt’s No. 6 on Monday for day one of the two-day state tournament. She tees off at 8:20 a.m.
Bird said she’s hoping for a top 10 finish. But no matter how she ends up faring at state, the senior wants to leave her underclassmen teammates with a simple strategy and words of wisdom.
“To have fun,” Bird said. “And that you can do it (be successful) in a short amount of time, if you put the time in.”
Sports Editor Kaleb Roedel can be reached at (910) 272-6111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.