While Bellarmine Prep takes aim at a second consecutive sweep of the 4A state golf championships this week, a family connection between the two teams will close out its four-year run.
Steve George has coached the Bellarmine boys’ team since 1991 and led the Lions to six state championships, including the 2015 title. A 1985 Bellarmine alum, he was the top-ranked player on a state championship Lions team his senior season.
Now 31 years later, his daughter Tessa will cap her prep career this week as the top-returning state golfer on a Bellarmine girls’ team targeting a state record seventh consecutive state team title.
“I graduated from Bellarmine and have always enjoyed working with the kids,” Steve said. “I always get good kids and good golfers who are eager to learn and improve, and that’s why I do it. I enjoy helping them in any way I can.”
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Steve credits his father for getting him interested in golf at a young age, a passion he’s passed on to Tessa.
“There was never really any question growing up whether I would play golf,” Tessa said. “Obviously, I would get frustrated when I didn’t play well, but I always loved it.”
Now Tessa is finishing a career that has seen her work her way up from 25th on the individual state leaderboard as a freshman to a tie for fourth last season. While she says she’d like to see if she can improve on her individual placement from last year, the primary goal is the team title.
“I think if we play how we normally play, we have a good chance of winning,” Tessa said. “It would be nice to go out with another championship. It’s still nerve-wracking when you go because it’s never guaranteed.”
While Tessa and her team play at Sun Willows in Pasco, Steve will be watching his squad at Meadow Springs Country Club in Richland. That split has prevented Steve from seeing much of his daughter’s success over the last four years in person.
“I watched her for six holes at the league tournament this year, and that’s probably the most holes I’ve seen her play her entire high school career,” Steve said.
But that doesn’t mean he’s not fully aware of how she’s playing.
“At the last state tournament, my father-in-law was there, and he was texting me shot-by-shot updates. My phone was just buzzing as I’m walking along watching the guys play with updates of each shot. She was playing well, and I wasn’t really nervous, but maybe a little anxious hoping she would do well.”
From a father’s perspective, Steve certainly would like to be there to see her compete, but he fully acknowledges Tessa might prefer things the way they are.
“She probably doesn’t like when I watch her play anyway,” Steve said.
“I don’t like when people watch me,” Tessa confirmed.
Summer competitions have been different, however, as he gets to walk around during her tournaments and offer assistance — if she wants it, he said.
Sometimes, it takes some time for her father’s advice to sink in.
“I usually don’t listen at first, and then I realize that he’s usually right,” Tessa admitted.
They also make sure to take time to play together on the course, although they both confess it can get pretty competitive.
“I won the last time!” Tessa said.
As Tessa prepares for graduation, she plans to attend Saint Louis University to pursue a degree in biology before advancing to medical school. The 2,000 miles of separation will definitely make for fewer father-daughter outings on the course.
“Going out and playing a nice nine holes together in the evenings is something I love doing, and that’s definitely something I’ll miss,” Steve said. “But it’s one of those things with transition and moving onto a new stage both for her and for me.”
For now, the focus is on her final few days as a high school golfer, looking to mirror her father’s senior year achievement of leading Bellarmine to a state crown.
“I hope she just goes out and enjoys it,” Steve said. “All the expectations of winning for their team and stuff, hopefully that’s not a big deal in terms of weighing down. Just enjoy what’s probably her last competition in golf and go have fun and play her hardest. She always does. She doesn’t let bad things get to her. I’ve always enjoyed the way she lets it go when something doesn’t work, while a lot of golfers can’t do that.”
When Tessa arrived at Bellarmine, the connection to her father attracted attention from staff members who’d known Steve for years. Four years later, she’s made her own name on campus.
“A lot of the teachers knew me because of him, asking if he’s my dad,” Tessa said. “Now they’ll probably ask my sister in a few years if she’s my little sister.”
“That’s OK,” Steve said.
“Yeah, I’m fine with that,” Tessa agreed.
WIAA State Boys and Girls Golf Championships
When: Tuesday and Wednesday
Where: Class 4A—Boys at Meadow Springs CC, Richland; Girls at Sun Willows GC, Pasco; Class 3A—Boys at Creek at Qualchan GC, Spokane; Girls at Indian Canyon GC, Spokane; Class 2A—Boys at Horn Rapids GC, Richland; Girls at Columbia Point, Richland; Class 1A—Boys and girls at Liberty Lake GC, Spokane; Class 1B/2B—Boys and girls at MeadowWood GC, Spokane
Tee times: Tuesday—First round is from 7:30-10:30 a.m., except for 1A girls (11:40 a.m.-1:30 p.m.) and 1B/2B girls (9:45 a.m.-11:10 a.m.). Wednesday—Final round based on cut numbers at discretion of the host site.
2015 boys team champions: 4A, Bellarmine Prep; 3A, Bainbridge; 2A, Sammamish; 1A, Seattle Academy; 1B/2B, Colfax.
2015 girls team champions: 4A, Bellarmine Prep; 3A, Mercer Island; 2A, Ephrata; 1A, King’s; 1B/2B, Pomeroy.
Returning individual champions: 4A boys, Zach Overstreet, Issaquah, sr.; 3A boys, Sam Warkentin, Bainbridge, sr.; 2A girls, Kenedee Peters, Ephrata, so.; 1A boys, Nick Baker, Cle Elum/Roslyn, jr.
The skinny: Boys—Bellarmine Prep won its ninth 4A title by the closest margin in state-tournament history last season — 93 1/2-92 1/2 points over Issaquah. And the Lions should be right there to repeat, led by standouts Joe Highsmith, a Southern Methodist commit, R.J. Manke and Joe Lyon. … Overstreet won the 4A boys individual title in dramatic fashion last season. He birdied five of his final six holes, then won a sudden-death playoff. He is vying to become the first 4A champion to defend the title since Kamiakin’s Chris Johnson did it in 1990. … Olympia’s Riley Killip is the reigning 4A Narrows winner. He set the tournament scoring mark at 12-under par 132. … Most would consider Warkentin the best overall golfer in the state. The University of Washington signee is the favorite in 3A.
Girls—Yawn if you’ve heard this before — Bellarmine Prep is still the 4A favorite. If the Lions win their seventh consecutive state title, they will establish the longest winning streak in state history. Right now, they are tied with Bellingham (2002-07, 2009-14), which had their latest one snapped last season by Ephrata in 2A. Lions senior Tessa George is the top returning state finisher in 4A. She tied for fourth last season. … Peters is the reigning Washington State Golf Association girls player of the year as well as the defending 2A champion. She won by 19 strokes last season as a ninth grader.
Tickets: Admission is free.