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Savannah Hawkins

Hurricane’s Savannah Hawkins, who just turned 14 Sunday, is the youngest player to ever win the women’s division of the West Virginia Junior Amateur.

To call Savannah Hawkins the next big thing in terms of golf in the state of West Virginia would be a little inaccurate.

Even having just turned 14 on Sunday, Hawkins has already arrived.

The youngster from Hurricane tidied up an 11-shot victory in the women’s division of the West Virginia Junior Amateur last Wednesday, becoming the youngest player to ever win the event. Hawkins had already won the West Virginia Junior Match Play title in June, completing the West Virginia Golf Association’s junior sweep on the women’s side.

As prep sports writers, Rick Ryan and I don’t cover a lot of middle school athletics, as it would stretch us far too thin. But on rare occasions, word of upcoming athletes does make it to me. I can remember hearing about a John Adams football player named Ryan Switzer. What Nitro’s Baylee Goins accomplished in girls basketball at Andrew Jackson also preceded her.

And I had been tipped off that this was coming from Hawkins about a year ago.

In preparation for the 100th West Virginia Amateur, I did a series of stories that included lengthy interviews with past winners of the event. Harold Payne, a West Virginia Golf Hall of Fame member, five-time West Virginia Amateur champion and four-time West Virginia Open winner was included in that.

Payne is also a longtime member at Sleepy Hollow Country Club, where Hawkins learned the sport with her father Larry. After a lengthy conversation about his own career, Payne instructed me to keep an eye out for Hawkins, who would take girls golf by storm in the coming years.

Over the years, Hawkins has gotten advice from some of the state’s best at Sleepy Hollow, including Payne, 13-time Amateur champion Pat Carter and Christian Brand, who recently returned from the Korn Ferry Tour.

“They have helped ... I don’t even know how much,” Hawkins gushed. “I wouldn’t be the golfer I am without their help.”

Hawkins has already won around 100 junior tournaments in states across the southeast, according to Larry Hawkins, and has already topped the best prep female golfers in the state’s two most prestigious junior tournaments, all before she’s stepped foot in a high school.

And that’s where there are some things still in flux. Hawkins just finished the eighth grade at Teays Valley Christian School, but the school isn’t a member of the Secondary School Activities Commission and doesn’t have a golf team.

College golf is a goal for Hawkins, who mentioned Duke and Coastal Carolina as possible dream schools. While not playing golf for a high school isn’t a college disqualifier, Hawkins is weighing her options heading into next year, leaving the door open for a possible move to a public school.

Selfishly, as someone who has covered high school golf for years, it sure would be fun to see Hawkins chase even more history — winning an individual state championship as a female, something that has never been done. Adeena Shears — then a standout at Parkersburg South — came the closest, finishing in a tie for second in 2015, falling short of Wheeling Park’s Dylan Wojcik by three strokes.

Speaking of Shears, her footsteps are those which Hawkins will try to follow now. Shears, who went on to play at Ohio State, has won five West Virginia Women’s Amateur championships in the last six years, including the last three in a row. Sandwiched in between Shears’ titles was one by Chloe Schiavone in 2015, who won the event as a 14-year-old, representing the youngest winner in the event’s history, which stretches back to 1916. It’s a mark Hawkins will have one more shot at besting this year.

The Women’s Amateur will be held at Berry Hills Country Club Sunday through Tuesday. Hawkins finished fifth, 12 shots back, as a 12-year-old in her first attempt last year.

As of Monday, Shears still hadn’t committed to playing in this year’s event. Either way, it will be interesting to see how much Hawkins has come in just over one calendar year. If the returns in junior events are any indication, she is a threat next week whether Shears plays or not.

Payne told me over a year ago that the day would soon come when I would get to know Hawkins. The first of those days was Monday, and though I’ve yet to see her play in person (that day should come on Tuesday), it didn’t take long to learn what is setting her apart by leaps and bounds and by birdies and eagles.

“I have a bulletin board in my room and at the beginning of the summer I wrote down Junior Match Play, Junior Am and Women’s Am,” she said matter-of-factly. “Those are really big goals of mine.”

It would perhaps be fitting if Hawkins did in fact follow Shears as the next Women’s Amateur champion. Hawkins spoke highly of her Sleepy Hollow male brethren, but couldn’t contain her fondness when the conversation switched to Shears.

“I met her at the banquet at the Women’s Am last year. She’s an amazing person. We’re friends on Instagram and she likes and comments on my golf posts — it just makes me feel good,” Hawkins said. “I really look up to Adeena, she sets the bar really high, she’s an inspiration for me — I want to be just like her.”

Just short of a year shy of being able to get her learner’s permit, Hawkins is well on her way. And, quite possibly, then some.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com or follow him @RPritt on Twitter.