ELISE DESCHAINE: SECRET GOLFER NO MORE
In years past, Elise Deschaine tried to keep it a secret.
What she loved to do just wasn't cool. Just as well that her peers not know.
Things changed, though, when she entered Central Catholic High last September. And they changed even more with the results of a competition that month in San Francisco.
Even if she still wanted to maintain her anonymity … well, that just wouldn't be possible.
Being on national television and competing at the holy grail of American golf tends to blow your cover.
On Sunday morning, 15-year-old Elise will be on the Golf Channel cable network as she takes part in the Drive, Chip & Putt national championships. The event will take place at legendary Augusta National Golf Club, site of the annual Masters, only arguably the biggest golf tournament in the world.
The Masters starts on Thursday, April 5. But the legacy course of all-time great Bobby Jones is kicking off its annual showcase week of azaleas and major championship golf with the unique national competition for golfers ages 7 to 15.
Elise, who lives in Southeast Portland and plays out of Eastmoreland Golf Course and Willamette Valley Country Club in Canby, is one of 10 finalists in the girls 14-15 division.
Each player receives points for their ability to drive a golf ball far and straight, for chipping and for putting, in a format that resembles the NFL's Punt, Pass & Kick contest for youth.
Most mortals — excellent golfers included — never will even get to set foot inside the gates of Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Elise will get to walk where Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and all the iconic champions have walked — and she'll stay for a practice round.
Whether her good fortune — earned through three levels of qualifying events — has fully sunk in yet might be debatable, though she admits to being "super excited."
Elise once played in a junior tournament in South Carolina and made the drive to Augusta National.
"We went to the front gates, and I was looking down Magnolia Lane," she says of the club's famously beautiful entrance. "But the guards were there, of course, and we couldn't go down it."
This time, she'll be their guest, and the event will be televised live by Golf Channel, starting at 5 a.m. PT Sunday.
"Everyone is real excited for me," she says of friends, family and people at Central Catholic. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm trying not to think or stress about it too much. It's supposed to be fun. I'm just honored to have made it, and I'm looking forward to the trip with my parents. It's kind of like a vacation."
That Elise seems to be taking everything in stride is no shock to those who know her well.
She's "mentally strong," says her father and golfing partner at Eastmoreland, Ron Deschaine. He describes his daughter as an earthy, part-hippie, nature type. She has been raised Buddhist and knows how to "just relax and be quiet and meditate on how things will be OK and how you don't have control over everything," Ron says.
The only child to Ron and wife Jasmine was introduced to golf by her dad when she was 10. The two of them essentially took up the game together. Ron had dabbled in it briefly, though his preference growing up was to skateboard and snowboard.
"It was something we could do together," he says of golf. "I used to be very active, before I got hurt doing those other things. I needed something to get me out of the house."
Elise soon discovered she liked a lot about golf, including the challenges of getting the ball in the air and of simply getting better.
She had played other youth sports. Meh.
"For some reason," she says, "golf just felt like it was going to be a winner."
And it's now "something I like doing away from school and life in general," she says. "The golf course is a place to get away and be in my own mind. You don't talk a lot during golf."
Another plus: "I like to be independent and rely on myself (as opposed to being dependent on teammates)."
And: "Golf is a good way to get out your anger — just go and hit golf balls."
And: "There are the great views — golf courses are all so gorgeous."
Soon after her first driving range foray with dad, she began to take lessons, from Eastmoreland pro Ray Comella and others. She joined and now does volunteer work at The Children's Course in Gladstone through The First Tee, a development program that introduces young people to golf. She started entering local junior tournaments.
In those years and during her school hours at Atkinson Elementary and Mt. Tabor Middle School, "there were zero people who played golf, and a lot of people made fun of the sport," she says. So she tried to not let on that she liked the game, was becoming good at it and spent time nearly every day practicing or playing.
"She would hide the fact that she's a golfer," her father recalls.
But now that Elise is playing on the varsity at Central Catholic "she has totally embraced it — she tells everyone she golfs," Ron says.
"It's insane," Elise says, "because at Central people care about golf. A lot of kids play golf with their parents."
Golf Channel came to Portland recently and spent a couple of days filming and interviewing her at the local courses.
"The staff (at Central Catholic) has all seen the Golf Channel's piece on me, so sometimes when I'll walking down the hallway, people just stare at me and say, 'There's the golfer girl,'" she says with a laugh.
Elise and Ron continue to have their own competitions, often with an ice cream treat on the line. He's become a 6-handicap. She's down to almost a 3.
Both drive the ball about 240 yards — the 5-4 Elise has come up in distance of late thanks in part to being fitted for clubs for the first time and acquiring a new Titleist 917 D2 driver.
Elise is into golf so much that she watches it on television.
"I started watching in the living room with my dad. I didn't even know the rules, but it was really interesting," she says.
Jordan Spieth quickly became her favorite male golfer. In 2016, when he was leading the Masters by four strokes going into the final nine holes only to hit two shots into the water and lose to Danny Willett, it was almost too much for her to bear.
"She about had an anxiety attack," Ron says. "She cried and went to her room."
One of Elise's big goals for next week is to follow Spieth during his practice round on Monday at Augusta.
"That would be the most amazing thing," she says.
Her favorite golfer, though, is Lexi Thompson, a star on the LPGA Tour. Elise got to be the standard bearer in Thompson's group at the LPGA Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club. Thompson took note of her and gave her some golf balls.
"She has inspired me so much," Elise says, "because of her confidence and how hard she hits the ball. She also wears a glove when she putts, and so do I."
Not that golf is the only thing of interest to Elise. She loves to hike and bike and breathe in the clean Oregon air. She's a vegetarian who has never eaten meat. She does core exercises on Wednesdays at Willamette Valley. She does aerial dance at the Echo Theater on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, when time and her golf schedule permit. She plays the flute, is learning French and loves math — "my all-time favorite subject."
She says she hasn't really thought about the proverbial what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up question.
"Of course maybe I'd want to turn pro and play golf, but otherwise I'd want to be a mechanical engineer or a math teacher," she says.
Her father is a woodworker who builds furniture and does architectural millwork. Her mother works at a children's clothing store. Both grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, although they didn't meet until some 20-plus years ago and in Portland.
Elise, according to her dad, "is a ball of energy … sometimes on the serious side but with a bubbly personality … she's always got a smile … is never down … an all-around happy girl … respectful … she's competitive, doesn't like to lose — she didn't like the team aspect of volleyball and basketball because if she lost she wanted to have lost on her own … but she doesn't throw clubs or cuss … she understands the process, and if you hit a bad shot how you just let it go."
Sunday's Drive, Chip & Putt national finals will be very different from playing in an 18-hole or multi-day tournament. It's hard to prepare for it or predict what will happen.
Each finalist gets to hit two drives, two chips and two putts. The longest drive that says in a 40-yard-wide fairway counts. Golfers also will be ranked and scored 10 to 1 for driving as well as on the cumulative distance from the hole of their chips and putts.
The qualifying events used a different scoring system and rules. In qualifying, each player takes three drives, three chips and three putts. Each drive (if in the fairway), chip and putt earns up to 25 points depending on where the ball finishes. A perfect score would be 75 points per skill and 225 points total.
For example, a drive of 200 to 210 yards earns 15 points. A drive of 250 to 260 yards gets 20 points. Any drive that travels 300 or more yards is worth the maximum 25 points.
Chips are made from 10 to 15 yards. Each player gets one putt each from 6, 15 and 30 feet. A short-game shot that goes in the hole earns 25 points. A chip that finishes more than 10 feet from the cup gets only one point. Incrementally, the value of a chip goes up, with a ball finishing two feet or less from the hole worth 20 points. A putt that stops a foot or less from the cup nets 20 points. A putt that ends up 1 to 2 feet away garners 15 points … on down to one point for a putt that stops more than 5 feet from the cup.
Elise made it to the finals this year — her third try — by finishing third in a local qualifier, then second in a sub-regional at Meriwether National Golf Club in Hillsboro, and then first in a regional at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, another well-known course and one that has been the site of numerous national championships.
When her score of 134 points at The Olympic Club held up as the winner — guaranteeing her the trip to Augusta — "I was in shock," she says.
At Augusta, she is expecting fast greens and perfectly manicured grass for the test of chipping.
"I'm practicing off tighter lies here, but I don't really know how to prepare for the greens there," she says. "I think I'll play my 54-degree wedge for the chipping and try to do a bump-and-run, but not too low, because the greens will be very fast."
She'll get to play a Saturday round at an adjacent course and also sightsee in the area on Tuesday, before returning home for high school matches on Wednesday and Thursday.
The trip to Georgia will be special for Elise's parents in another way, as they will be celebrating their wedding anniversary.
"And I'll only have to miss a couple days of school," she says.