By Vern Hee
Samantha Ryals, senior Tonopah High School golfer and team captain, leads her boys into the new season. She is the first and only female team captain the boys golf team has ever had.
Tonopah High School has no girls golf team, so Ryals had no choice but to play with the boys. She joined the team as a sophomore two years ago and has excelled ever since.
“During my freshman year I was scared because I was going to be a freshman and a girl on the team,” said Ryals. “I was really worried because I didn’t know anyone. In my sophomore year, I decided that it was worth it. I wanted to play golf and I ended up loving it.”
She regrets not going out her freshman year. She’s fearless now.
“Right off the bat I was accepted. It did not bother them that I was a girl, which was really great. They messed with me just like they mess with everyone else. I feel like I am more of a teammate on this team, more so than any other. I love this team. Everyone here is equal,” said Ryals.
Ryals did not go to state last year, but did finish her year on an all-conference team.
Donnie Nelson, assistant director of the NIAA, believes she is the only girl named to a boys all-conference team.
“We have had other girls play on boys teams because of school rules. If the school does not offer girls golf in the fall then the girl is authorized to play in the spring with the boys. I can not think of any others who have played in boys golf who were that competitive,” said Nelson.
Robert Otteson, Tonopah golf coach, said she will be one of the top golfers on his team. She is the only senior this year. Her scores at the end of last year, were somewhere in the low 90s. She said her goals for this year are to get her scores in the low 80s and make state.
Dale Salmen, head Round Mountain boys golf coach, said Ryals will do well.
“She will do well because she plays often. I have seen her up at the Round Mountain course several times during the summer,” said Salmen.
Ryals is confident she will do well this year.
“I compete with another team member for first place. I have never been last on the team or in a tournament and I am quite proud of that,” she said.
She believes her strengths are in her mid-range clubs.
“I am finally getting good with my driver and this will help me out. I can hit my driver over 215 yards. I think I can read greens fairly well, but I still can use some work on my short game,” she said.
Ryals has played golf for most of her life, starting at age 7. At this young age, she would play golf with her parents.
“I started playing golf when I was younger,” said Ryals. “When I started playing golf I was really young and I moved around a lot. I think I was in Florida when I started to play. My dad and some of his friends play golf and I just went with him. I started playing that way. I remember when I was small I would just drop a ball in the middle of the fairway and hit it, or I would drop one near the green or on it and putt the ball. I remember back then not even playing a full round of golf until I was a sophomore.”
She loved the game so much she started to take lessons in third grade and kept at it through junior high. She would travel 70 miles to Round Mountain for the lessons because her home town of Tonopah does not have a golf course.
In middle school, she began thinking of playing golf in high school. She knew the team existed, but just had no clue where the team played.
“When I joined the team I was kind of skeptical. I never hit off a mat before. I knew they had a driving range, but I had no idea where it was. They would practice at the old airport, and I knew there was no grass out there so I had no idea how they would practice without grass,” said Ryals.
The team, she discovered, did its entire practice at a driving range and hardly visited a real golf course.
“The hardest part of not having a real course to work on, is that we have to hit on fake mats and this hinders our putting. We have to be better putters without as much experience. We did not have as much chipping experience either. Now, we have a sand pit, and before that we did not have as much practice unless we went on a course. It is even harder for new people, and team members that have never seen a course. The new team members do not understand the difference between hitting off of mats and hitting off of grass. Regardless, we tend to do well. We manage. We figure if we work harder out here, we will do better when we get to real grass,” she said.
Ryals attributes the success of the team to the dedication of the coaches.
“The team members, who have never even picked up a club before joining the team are doing quite well. The coaches work very closely with them, and we work with them,” said Ryals.
In Idaho, there is a female player on the boys golf team this year and because she is so successful, the league is trying to get her off the team. In Nevada, Ryals has not experienced this kind of discrimination, but said she would be disappointed if she could not play.
“It would upset me a lot if they prevented me from playing golf, especially since they have no girls golf team. Playing golf for Tonopah, there has never been a single problem with the team. I think at first our coach may have been skeptical, but after the first practices and tournament, he had no doubts and had no problem with it. I am very grateful for that,” said Ryals.
The presence of Ryals on the team has attracted other girls to play on the team.
“I was the first girl, but this year we have a few girls on the team who are freshmen. I am not sure if they will stick with it. I am the only girl that has actually competed in any tournaments,” said Ryals.