Holding an oversized golf club, Aimee Kittilson stood on the driving range at Medicine Hole Golf Course and watched as others play in the Firecracker Scramble on Sunday.
Soon, though, she would display fireworks of her own with an over-sized driver that looked more like Thor’s hammer.
Kittilson planned to light up the semi-cloudless afternoon sky with a storm of range balls unlucky enough to be the ones she plucked from their anonymity in a bucket that carried 20 or so identical projectiles. This has become a ritual for the former Killdeer High School standout, who has taken a summer job at the golf course this summer.
Wearing a purple Minnesota Vikings cap that kept her brown shoulder-length hair intact, the 19-year-old addressed the ball with the intent of showing no mercy. She took a quick glance at the 200-yard sign on the opposite side of the range. A smile – almost a sneer – curled on her lips as she eyed the dimpled pill standing helplessly on the tee.
Slowly, almost methodically, Kittilson pulled the club back. Her eyes, slightly squinting now, were honing in on the helpless ball. A second later she brought the club down with a smooth yet violent force resulting in a “whoosh” sound followed by a monstrous “whack” as she made contact.
And just like that, the ball was gone, disappeared into space. Whether it landed at the 200-yard mark or beyond is unknown.
One thing is for sure, the impressive drive brought a satisfied smile to Kittilson’s face.
But that’s not the only thing that has Kittilson smiling. A couple weeks ago and national academic excellence that culminated a very successful first year at Bismarck State College.
She was one of eight students from the two-year school to earn Academic Excellence Awards from the National Junior College Athletic Association. She posted a 3.7 grade point average, which enabled her to earn the NJCAA Award for Exemplary Achievement.
Additionally, her grade point average, which was tops on the golf team, helped the squad post a cumulative 3.0 average and earn an NJCAA Academic Team of the Year honor.
When asked about it, Kittilson kind of shrugged her shoulders and smiled, as if to downplay her classroom performance.
“I just went to class,” she said.
For her, there’s another classroom – the golf course. And she did just as well with her oversized driver and scorecards as she did with her pen and note cards.
As a freshman, Kittilson qualified for the NJCAA National Women’s Golf Tournament in Daytona Beach, Fla. She did so by taking second in the Region XIII tournament in Biwabik, Minn.
But the Cinderella season didn’t exactly end the way Kittilson was hoping. Normally a mid-to-upper 80s scorer, she struggled at the national tournament, posting scores in the high 90s the first three days.
Why? She shrugged her shoulders and said she battled, but things just weren’t clicking.
But she didn’t give up. She refused to let that bad stretch ruin her entire experience. On the fourth and final day, she found her touch. Her drives were long and straight. Her short game came along and her putting was true. She shot an 89, enabling her to end the year on somewhat of a high note.
“The national tournament was kind of an eye-opener for me,” she said. “I realized I could play with them, but you have to really take it seriously if you want to be good.”
Her goal for next year is simple: “Practice and play with a purpose.” She wants to make a return trip to the national tournament and post scores she knows she’s capable of doing.
“A lot of it is your mental attitude and how you think about it,” Kittilson said. “It’s a matter of you getting out there more and not let one bad shot screw up your round.”
That mental attitude is one of her strengths, said James DeLaurier, her boss and former high school coach.
“She’s always been a very devout student and athlete,” said DeLaurier, the Golf Activities/Clubhouse Manager at Medicine Hole Golf Course. “She’s up here practicing more than most players, always working to get better.”
DeLaurier recalled an incident at the North Dakota State High School tournament during Kittilson’s senior season where she refused to “let one bad shot screw up” her round. It was on a par 4 and she drove the green and was in position to card a birdie. But she three-putted and settled for a par.
She didn’t get rattled and put that blown opportunity behind her. And on the very next hole, Kittilson came back with a birdie.
“She always keeps her head in the game,” he said.
“It’s not difficult to set a goal. What is difficult is to accomplish those goals,” he added.
That has never been an issue for Kittilson, even when she first started playing the game as a seventh grader. She liked the challenge the game provided, pitting herself against, well, herself.
“It’s you against the course. You’re not playing against anybody else but yourself,” she said.
Winning really wasn’t a priority for the young golfer until midway through her high school career.
“I played for a couple of years and didn’t take it serious until about my sophomore year,” she said.
That year she felt the sting of disappointment. She was playing at an individual state-qualifying meet and the standard was an 87. Kittilson shot a 91, missing the cut by four strokes.
That disappointment flamed a fire of determination that would carry her through the final two years. She stayed after practice every day, working on some aspect of her game, sometimes for hours.
It paid off. As a junior she became just the second girl from Killdeer to qualify for state. The tied for 20th in the tournament that season.
The following year, she was even better. She placed eighth at the state tournament and earned All-State honors, the first girl from Killdeer to do so.
Her journey is not over. She wants to return to the national tournament next year. After that? Who knows?
But one thing if for sure. She will continue her own brand of fireworks.