There was a time in Kaysa Panke’s younger years when she dreaded going to the golf course. Now, she can’t wait to get to the range or the first tee.
In between, there were a ton of ski races, two torn ACLs and nonstop A’s on her report cards.
It’s been an eventful journey for the Davenport High senior, but no matter what’s on her schedule, count on Panke to be at the top of her game. She just returned from a Future Business Leaders of America state competition, helping Davenport place second out of 30 teams and a trip to nationals in Baltimore.
Panke is a two-time state golf champion and she’ll probably be favored to win a third at Hangman Valley in May. Her success on the fairways comes after years of success flying down the side of a mountain. The slopes were her first love.
“My brother (Kristof, a freshman at Davenport) and I have been ski racing since before we could walk,” Panke said.
That’s why it was so tough for her to give up competitive skiing. The family splits time in winter months between Davenport and a second home near Red Mountain in Rossland, British Columbia. Kaysa and Kristof both competed at a top-five level nationally in Canada. Kristof will join Davenport’s golf team after the racing circuit concludes in a few weeks.
Kaysa, who has committed to Gonzaga, concentrated on golf after suffering a pair of torn ACLs skiing in 2015. The injuries came six months apart, the second in November. Six months later, she won the State 2B/1B title by eight shots at MeadowWood, signaling her promising future in golf.
“Golf was right around the corner (after her second ACL),” said Panke, who had to ease into full swings while rehabbing her knee. “I was on the putting green for a long time and that really helped my game.”
Panke’s first title wasn’t a shock. She had been active in Washington Junior Golf Association tournaments and was on Davenport’s team for two seasons, including as an eighth-grader when it was permissible under WIAA rules. She placed 20th and fourth in her first two state tournaments.
Panke made swift improvement. She shot a two-round 235 at state in 2014, 90 shots behind the winner. She carded a 156 in 2016 and repeated as 1A/2B/1B champ with a 152 last May for a 15-stroke victory.
Panke’s ability to focus is as impressive as her scores. She carries a 4.0 grade-point average, earning class valedictorian honors.
“She’s all business when she’s on the course,” Davenport coach Colin Guhlke said. “I try to be a little lighthearted with her and try to get a smile on her face to try to break the tension. Her dad (Rolf) is a doctor and he always preaches being focused and staying in the moment. I preach that as well. You can’t go backward in this game. There’s no rewind button if you hit a bad shot.”
Panke’s short game has always been strong, but she’s added another weapon to her game. She revamped her swing after working with instructor Travis Fulton, a former Silver Valley resident who is a regular on Golf Channel.
“I’m really working on turning my hips,” said Panke, who visits Fulton twice a year in Florida and they connect for video lessons a few times a month. “I used to slide them in my backswing. That’s a huge swing change. I’ve accessed more power.”
Panke estimated her average drives at 220 yards last year. She’s at 250 yards at the outset of her senior season. She hasn’t had much chance to fine-tune her swing with the lousy spring weather, but she believes the added distance will generate lower scores.
One of her best rounds, a 69 at Palouse Ridge at a WJGA event last summer, came with Gonzaga coach Brad Rickel in attendance.
“I was driving and putting well. Everything ran real smoothly,” Panke said. “I didn’t know he was there.”
Panke plans on making more memories in her senior season.
“My goal is no three-putts, that’s a huge thing for me, keep my average in the low 70s and win another state title,” she said.