All Mike Neidhold was really looking for, he said, was a golf partner.
Back when his daughter, Hope, was 6 years old, he was trying to get her interested in playing the game by bringing some non-golf items out on the Horn Rapids Golf Course in Richland.
“The first time we went out on the course, I brought a butterfly net, a coffee can and a 6-iron,” said Neidhold, better known around Richland as the head football coach at Richland High School. “I thought ‘Well maybe she’ll catch a lizard.’”
She did. She brought the lizard back to their golf course home in the coffee can, and she was hooked.
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“When I was little I was like a wildlife enthusiast,” she said.
Eventually, Hope took a liking to the 6-iron — and the other clubs in the bag — and she’s become a real success.
Today, Hope Neidhold and her Columbia Basin College teammates are favored to win the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges golf tournament on the same course she caught that first lizard.
The women tee off at 9:15 a.m., followed by the NWAACC men.
Monday’s final round starts at 7:30 a.m.
The Hawks as a team have yet to lose to anybody this spring. In addition to Neidhold, Bri Hadler, Janci Spoo, Abby McMinn and Casey Tucker have combined to help the Hawks dominate the rest of the field all season.
“We have a chance to go undefeated,” said CBC coach Dan Clifford. “We have all five of our women in the top 10 scoring average in the NWAACC. This is our home course. Last year it was a big upset when we didn’t win it all. Those girls have shown a lot of heart this year. They seem to have a lot of hunger.”
Leading the way is Neidhold, who graduated from Richland High School two years ago and decided to go to Washington State University that fall, not playing golf.
A good player for the Bombers, Hope went through that first semester at WSU feeling she was missing something. It was golf.
She asked her parents if she could come home and play for CBC in the spring, and that’s how she ended up with the Hawks.
“There is just something about competitive golf that is so different than just going out and playing,” she said.
In high school, she’d go to golf practice out of duty. But at CBC, she has learned to love every minute out there.
In the summer, Neidhold will play a round at Horn Rapids.
“Then I’ll chip and putt for a half hour, go home and get something to eat, then go back out and maybe play nine holes with my dad,” she said.
Everyone agrees her hard work has made her better.
“Hope practices with a purpose,” said Mike Neidhold. “She works on things she’s not good at. She’s not a big girl by any means, but she generates a lot of club speed. If you ask her which is her favorite club, she’ll say ‘I like to hit the driver.’”
Clifford said she hits it 265 to 270 yards off the tee box.
Considering the diminutive Neidhold was hitting 220 yards at best in high school, people have been impressed with the extra yardage.
“I feel like I’ve start using my core more,” she said. “When you have a tight core and rotate your body, you can hit it farther.”
And she’s relaxed more.
“I put a lot of stress on myself in high school,” said Neidhold. “I quit doing that and relaxed and it became easier. Now I’m making my putts.”
Clifford said she shot a 74 a few weeks ago at Bandon Dunes.
“That score was unbelievable that day with those conditions,” Clifford said.Neidhold would be happy with that score for the next two days at Horn Rapids.
“I’d like to get in the 70s both days,” she said. “As long as I hit it straight off the tee and to the middle of the green for a two-putt. I swear by it, hitting the middle of the green.”
Clifford wouldn’t be surprised.
“She’s picked up some heart since high school,” said Clifford. “And I think she’s picked up more ambition.”