Growing up in a golf family, Bellingham's Brooke Branigan vividly recalls attending her sister's golf tournaments as a youth.
While Branigan was watching her sister - former Sehome standout golfer Tate Head - she couldn't help but appreciate the brilliant play of former Bellingham greats Claire Rachor and Katie Sharpe.
"My sister played for Sehome in 2008, so I'd always go to golf matches," Branigan said in a phone interview. "Katie Sharpe and Claire Rachor were there, and I thought it was the coolest thing. They were kind of my role models."
The past three seasons have provided Branigan with the chance to accomplish what she witnessed other Bellingham greats do before her. As a junior, she's already had plenty of success.
Branigan helped Bellingham win its 10th state title in the past 11 years, including four straight 2A state titles. She finished in a tie for fourth at state, won the Northwest District Tournament and served as team captain for a group of Red Raiders who became the first team in conference history to average more than 300 Stableford points during their seven league tournaments with a 302.9 average.
For her phenomenal season, Branigan is The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Golfer of the Year. Bellingham coach Brad McKay has been selected All-Whatcom County Girls' Golf Coach of the Year.
"She more than anybody deserved to have a great year," McKay said in a phone interview. "She does work all year long, tirelessly. She's kind of an unsung hero in that she does a lot of things outside of golf to make the program better. Brooke is a very mature individual, and she is a self-reliant golfer."
Being a part of Bellingham's golf legacy is only one part of Branigan's golf objective. She also wants to see the program continue its success after she's gone.
"Going by (the trophy case), I see all the past history, and I want to make sure it keeps going in the future with our JV players," Branigan said.
Much to the excitement of McKay and the rest of Bellingham's mostly young star-filled roster, Branigan still has one more year to put the finishing touches on what has already been an outstanding career.
While Branigan enjoyed success her freshman and sophomore seasons - finishing 15th and sixth at state, respectively - this spring was arguably her finest.
McKay said he saw continual progression in the distance Branigan is able to drive the ball, and he also praised the touch she displayed in order to get the ball on and around greens.
Her steady improvements undoubtedly helped her score 464 Stableford points - the most of any league golfer - during the seven conference tournaments.
Even more so than her game, McKay said her ability to blossom into a great leader was invaluable to the Red Raiders.
"It's nice to have a kid who echoes what I want for the team," McKay said. "It's one thing for a coach to say, 'Work hard,' but she echoes that process, and it really helps our program grow and mature. Kids will come up behind her and have that competitive edge."
Branigan displayed her competitive fire all season while performing at a high-level on big stages such as the district tournament, which she won, and state.
McKay said when the rare occasion occurs and Branigan gets in trouble on the course, she has an innate ability to recover. While playing through adversity is key to Branigan's success, she said she's placed a larger emphasis on having fun. Results showed her new attitude benefited her.
"Just having fun," said Branigan, referring to what the biggest improvement in her game has been. "I think being more carefree about things has improved my attitude. I was definitely a different player at districts when I played with friends. We were having fun and talking, and I wasn't thinking about golf for four and a half hours. It mentally gave me a break. I played with girls who didn't talk at state. I think that got to my head a little bit."
McKay said Branigan set three goals this season: One was to become league MVP, one was to be the Northwest District champion, and the last goal was winning a state title.
She achieved two of the three by being selected golfer of the year and winning district. Next spring Branigan will get the chance to cross off the final accomplishment, adding another chapter in Bellingham's long legacy of success.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY TEAM
GIRLS' GOLF PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2012: Brooke Branigan, Bellingham
2011: Jenn Paul, Bellingham
2010: Jessica Davis, Bellingham
2009: Claire Rachor, Bellingham
2008: Claire Rachor, Bellingham
2007: Katie Sharpe, Bellingham
2006: Paige Rachor, Bellingham
This is the second in a series of packages honoring the standout student-athletes of the 2012 high school spring sports season. The All-Whatcom County teams and Athletes of the Year are selected by the Sports staff of The Bellingham Herald. Here is a look at the dates this season's teams will run:
Girls' tennis: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
Boys' soccer: Heath Sowers, Ferndale
Softball: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
Baseball: Jordan Kreider, Lynden
Girls' golf: Brooke Branigan, Bellingham
Boys' golf: Coming June 15
Girls' track and field: Coming June 16
Boys' track and field: Coming June 17
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.