Girls Varsity Golf
Game Summaries & Headlines.
Brandon Folsom, Port Huron Times Herald Published 12:32 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2019 | Updated 1:42 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2019
How a Port Huron Northern sophomore became a star golfer in only 3 years
Brandon Folsom, Port Huron Times Herald
Published 12:32 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2019 | Updated 1:42 p.m. ET Oct. 3, 2019
Three years ago, Madison Bajis was taking dance classes. Now she's one of the top golfers in the Blue Water Area.
On Saturday, Port Huron Northern sophomore Madison Bajis will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt regional at Oakland Hills in Bloomfield Hills.
On the line is a chance to play in the national finals in April at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the 2020 Masters Tournament.
Already this year, in the Girls 14-15 division, she's placed second in both the local and subregional qualifiers she's played in.
That's not bad for a former dancer who didn't start golfing competitively until 2017.
Finding a new passion to pursue
When the cost and time involved with dance lessons didn't yield much of a return on investment, Madi's parents, Andrea and Guy Bajis, suggested she make a change.
The networking opportunities in dance just weren't there for Madi, nor was a chance to get a college scholarship.
So two years ago, after Madi wrapped up dance classes in April, she and Andrea made an executive decision.
"I asked her to focus on something different," Andrea said. "She wanted to try golf, so we got lessons started, and she's never looked back."
Madi didn't have too much experience golfing, outside of occasional rounds of putt-putt with her friends or swinging clubs with her grandpa, Larry McKay, and dad.
So Andrea got her lessons with instructor Wendy Palmateer at Golf Country & Pro Shop in Kimball. Madi also signed up for the Blue Water Junior Golf Association.
Madi's lessons with Palmateer went from 30-minute sessions to 90 minutes and sometimes two hours. The better she got at golf, the more she continued to practice.
She started out shooting in the 80s for nine holes. When her grandpa saw how quickly she was improving, he bought her custom-fitted clubs. That helped her break into the 40s.
"She had a great, natural swing, and she just progressed and progressed," McKay said. "She's got a great swing and attitude. She was all in then, and she has brought it all together with a spectacular swing."
By summer's end, Madi won her junior golf league.
During the championship round, another golfer's parent suggested to Andrea that Madi try out the Top 50 Junior Tour, a Michigan- and Florida-based junior league featuring some of the top golfers in the country.
"I knew that's what she needed," Andrea said. "She was winning, and I wanted her to have some harder competition to push her a little bit more. I knew it'd give her more drive, and I think that helped quite a bit."
Madi had three top-eight finishes in 2017.
The following summer, she improved some more and wound up with four top-five finishes, including a runner-up effort during a Pontiac Country Club event and tying for first in the Edgewood Junior Fall Classic in Commerce Twp.
"I guess I've always liked the challenge of golf," Madi said. "It's fun to see if you can have the least amount of strokes to get the ball into the hole.
"If you're behind a tree, it's fun to see if you can get it in by two, and that's fun to me. I just really like it a lot."
What the Top 50 also did was prepare Madi to become a starter for Northern's girls team the following fall.
A starter from Day 1
At the end of the 2017-18 school year, Northern coach Jessie Freed held an information session with all the prospective girls golfers in the school. She encouraged them to play over the summer and to come to fall practice prepared for the season.
Sitting in that session was Madi, then an eighth-grader.
"Everyone had told me she was good," Freed recalls. "During our meeting, the girls pointed to her and said, 'That's Madi. She's a really good girl for us.'
"And then I saw her on the first day of practice, and I was impressed right away. She was our No. 1 golfer for all events. She had been golfing for only two or three years, and she started on my team. She was a natural. That's hard to come by these days. She put a lot of effort into it."
Madi finished all-conference and was named the Rookie of the Year in the Macomb Area Conference-Red.
She was the lone Northern player to qualify for the state finals after placing third individually in the Division 2 regional at Huron Meadows in Brighton.
"That was crazy to come in as a freshman and be the No. 1," Madi said. "I don't get too nervous when I golf, so it wasn't that big of a deal to have to play with all those better people, but there was some pressure to be the No. 1 on my team. There were expectations there."
Madi continued to use that as motivation.
Even in the winter, she didn't rest. She would hit golf balls into a net in her garage, do chip shots into a bucket in the front yard and work on her putting in the basement.
Larry and she would even battle the cold and play a round or two in December and January at local courses.
"It'd be 30 degrees in January, with snow on the ground, and we'd still go out," she said. "I love the sport that much that I'll go out and do whatever I must for it."
Drive, Chip and Putt phenom
This past summer, Madi had another successful Top 50 run. She was runner-up three times and won a tournament at Prestwick Village in Highland. She ended the summer ranked 10th out of the 70 Top 50 players in Girls 12-15.
When she wasn't playing in tournaments or preparing for her sophomore season with the Huskies, she was excelling at Drive, Chip and Putt tournaments.
In the local qualifier June 21 at Whispering Willows in Livonia, she placed second with a score of 109 points, finishing just behind Tara O'Connor of Guelph, Ontario. Madi scored 36 in the drive, 31 in the chip and 42 in the putt, to qualify for the subregional round.
Only Sophie Stevens of Highland, who scored 132 points, was better than her at the subregional Aug. 2 at The Orchards in Washington. Madi scored 42 in the drive, 22 in the chip and 50 in the putt to total 114 points, earning the only other regional spot up for grabs.
What's more, Madi finished one point ahead of OConnor, who had edged her earlier in the summer.
"Lots of hours at the driving range have helped, just having repetitive swings," she said.
Now it's come down to Saturday's round at Oakland Hills. Should Madi qualify for the national finals next spring, she and McKay will likely have many more practice rounds in the December and January cold.