Merkel’s Haylee Deen thrives on golf course despite being new to game

by | Jun 10, 2022 | Golf Balls

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many people’s lives. It changed Haylee Deen’s life, too, though it might have been for the better.

It led her to her true calling – golf.

The Merkel youngster was restless when the pandemic brought everyday life to a halt in the spring of 2020. Schools were closed from March 20 to April 3, and all school athletic activities were canceled. Most schools didn’t resume on-campus learning until the following school year. 

Deen, an eighth-grader at the time, grew restless and decided she would follow her dad, Jason, to the golf course.

“When COVID happened, I just started playing to do something, because I couldn’t play the sports I did play,” said Deen, a cheerleader and basketball player before the pandemic.

She played quite a bit of golf with her dad and started enjoying the sport as she grew more capable – and confident – with her game.

It wasn’t long before Deen was playing with dad in the weekly scrambles at Tin Cup Country Club in Merkel.

“She would get out there just for fun,” said Deen’s mother, Jamie. “It was during COVID, and she was kind of bored. Dad said, ‘Well, hey, let’s go learn how to play some golf.’ She started playing and got in those little scrambles. She had fun with it and kind of ran with it. She loves it.”

The guys would play with coolers full of beer. Deen had her Dr Pepper – something she still sips during her rounds.

And, yes, guys would be guys at times. But for the most part, they were good influences on a then-13-year-old Deen.

“The guys out there, they’re not too rowdy,” Jamie Deen said. “They behave. Somebody might hit a bad tee shot and they might say a word or two. It’s a golf course. … But those guys, they kind of took her under their wing, and they’re wonderful with her. We love them all.”

Merkel's Haylee Deen hits onto the green at No. 4 during the West Texas Junior Champions Tour on Thursday at Maxwell Golf Course.

Honing her game on tour

The younger Deen, affectionally known as Bug by family and friends – short for ladybug, started playing on the West Texas Junior Champions Tour the summer in 2020.

She finished third on the tour playing in the ages 13-14 age division. Deen won the Quicksand Golf Course event in San Angelo, and she also won the Lone Cedar Country Club event in Eastland.

She also had three second-place finishes.

“It made me feel more comfortable with playing the sport and more confident,” Deen said. “That made me keep going, and I played for my school.”

Playing for Merkel High School as a freshman in 2021, she qualified for the Region I-3A as an individual. She also went to region this past season. The Lady Badgers qualified as a team, but Deen would have made the trip anyway – she finished second in a district that includes Wall and Jim Ned.

She didn’t have as much success playing on the WTJC Tour last year, competing in the ages 15-18 division. She played in 11 events with her best finish being two third-place finishes (Sammy Baugh Golf Course in Snyder and Maxwell Golf Course in Abilene).

Deen, however, has thrived on the tour this year.

She leads the ages 15-18 division after playing her seventh event at Maxwell Golf Course on Thursday. She finished third with a 23 over-par 94. But it came on the heels of her winning at San Angelo Country Club two days earlier. She also won The Spring Swing on March 13 at Maxwell.

Deen might have won Thursday’s event, but she faltered on the final two holes and finished 13 shots back of Brownwood’s River Jones.

“I would have shot like an 88, but I went really bad on the last two holes,” Deen said. “But it is what it is. You have to shake it off. That hole is behind you. You can’t do anything about it.”

Deen said she likes playing on the WTJC Tour, because it helps her get better – and she hopes to one day play college golf.

“I play against a lot of girls who help me get better,” Deen said.

She liked playing against Wall’s Sam Lehr, who recently graduated after helping the Lady Hawks win their second consecutive Class 3A state title.

“Playing with her always makes me want to be like her and be that good,” Deen said.

Merkel's Haylee Deen hits onto the green at No. 1 during the West Texas Junior Champions Tour on Thursday at Maxwell Golf Course.

One of the guys

Yet Deen said playing with her dad’s friends in the weekly scrambles during the summer might have made the biggest contributions to her game.

“I think playing with the guys helped a lot,” Deen said. “I was always real nervous playing around them, so it got me a little more settled to play people my own age.”

She said the guys treat her well – even when she shows them up.

“But they’ve never really not let me play, and they treat me like one of them,” she said.

Deen said they quite often play her drives – not bad for a small, scrawny 16-year-old who hardly looks like a golfer.

One of her dad’s friends gets her golf balls for Christmas and her birthday.

“This year, he got me a golf ball that says ‘Bug,’ and ‘Happy Sweet 16’ because I just turned 16,” she said.

She also gets his old clubs.

“They’re really supportive of me,” Deen said. “I’d like to think they helped me get to where I am and how I play.”

Then there’s dad, who had given up the sport after Deen was born. He took it back up a few years before the pandemic, and it proved a boon for his daughter.

The two even spent much of their time on the course last year when Jamie was quarantined with COVID-19.

“We were out there a whole bunch,” Haylee Deen said. “That was fun.”

Merkel's Haylee Deen eyes her chip shot onto the green at No. 1 during the West Junior Champions Tour on Thursday at Maxwell Golf Course.

Jamie Deen said she doesn’t mind her daughter spending so much time on the course with her father.

“I love it,” Jamie Deen said. “Her and him have a great relationship. It’s amazing. He works in the oil field. So, he’s out of town all the town. When he comes home, that’s what they do. They play golf.”

Jamie Deen said she didn’t think Haylee would stick with golf when she first started playing three years ago. It helped that a golf instructor putting on a camp at Tin Cup encouraged her to keep playing.

“The guy putting on the camp said, ‘She’s really got a great swing. She’s got something special. She needs to stick with it,’” Jamie Deen said. “She thought, ‘Well, maybe I should stick with it.’ It gave herself something to do. She sticks to herself, and it gives her something to go out and do and learn to communicate and be around people.”

Mom doesn’t mind taking her daughter to each tournament and following her around on the course – even on a 100-degree day.

“I love it,” Jamie Deen said after Thursday’s round at Maxwell Golf Course. “I could do this all day. Even in the heat. I’ll follow her around with all the water.”

Haylee Deen plans to play at the Texas-Oklahoma Junior Golf Tournament, which begins Sunday in Wichita Falls. She said it’s a chance to play before several college golf scouts. She wants to catch their eyes before she graduates from Merkel in 2024.

Haylee Deen putts at No. 4 during the West Texas Junior Champions Tour on Thursday at Maxwell Golf Course.

Just think, competitive golf wasn’t even on her radar before the pandemic three years ago. Now she dreams about playing college golf.

“It was a blessing,” Jamie Deen said. “It gave her a path, I hope.”

Joey D. Richards covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him at Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.

original article can be found here