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AOW: Billings West's Bella Johnson: 'I love this game'

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Posted at 2:08 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-04 15:15:26-04

BILLINGS - Q2's Athlete of the Week has sharpened her game for this very occasion.

The first time Billings West's Bella Johnson tried golf she wasn't even on a course. She doesn't remember where, but recalls there was golf simulator in front of her.

"I was five years old," Johnson told Montanasports.com before a recent practice at the Yellowstone Country Club. "And I was like, okay, I want to hit some golf balls then just fell in love with it."

That love quickly extended to the fairways.

"(I joined) Yegen Kids, then I started playing junior tournaments and I was like, you know what, I love this game," she said.

And it shows. Johnson last week won the Eastern AA divisional as a sophomore with rounds of 78-81 for 159, one stroke better than Billings Senior's Lauren Mayala. West also won the girls team title at 675 with four Bears finishing at 176 or lower.

When Montana's State AA golf tournament tees off Thursday morning at Cottonwood Hills in Bozeman, West will be chasing its ninth state girls championship and first since 2014. West's boys own 18 State AA titles with their most recent in 2016.

Johnson recalls her first time shooting in the 70s just a couple years ago as an eighth grader and has since out-driven her own expectations with a pair of tournament lows under 70.

"I shot 66 at Lake Hills and 69 in Bozeman. I cannot tell you how excited I was," she said. "I was like, this is crazy, this is insane. I can't believe I just did this."

West head golf coach Marcus Drange points to Johnson's tee shot as one of her major advantages.

"Her length is almost second to none around the state," he said. "She's definitely one of the longer players."

The sophomore displays confidence of a senior when asked about her strength.

"I'd say probably my driver and irons are the really strong part of my game," she said. "And putting. I feel very confident about my putting."

"She grinds, she works really hard," Drange said. "She's usually the last one to leave practice."

Drange has also watched Johnson's mental game intensify.

"I think that anyone who plays golf can understand the frustration of when golf does not go your way and she's done a good job of being able to learn from the days that she's maybe not mentally in check," he said, "...and that bleeds over to the other girls. When our mental game is on, I truly feel we're just hard to beat."

Thinking ahead, Johnson says she's focused on playing collegiate golf. In the meantime, she wouldn't mind rekindling a little luck from distance. It's been a while since her only hole-in-one, when she was a 10-year-old meandering the course by herself at Par 3.

"Used my seven iron and I hit it (on the 12th hole), and it bounced and rolled in and I was like, what just happened? I just stood there. I didn't know what to do.

"And the people behind me were like, you just got a hole-in-one!' And I was like, yeah!" she recalled.

It seems every five years Johnson strikes a little golf magic. She picked up the game at age five, hit her only hole-in-one at 10 and, now at 15, who knows what may blossom at this week's State AA tournament.