Cami Culp had some rare spare time on her hands Sunday, but not much daylight.
The Mead High senior spent it at Kalispel Golf and Country Club, practically her home away from home.
“I work (as a waitress) on the weekends, and we had a family dinner,” Culp said. “That was the only time I could play so it was, ‘Oh, I have to run to the course and get a few holes in.’ ”
Mead coach Keith Ross was just finishing up on 18 when he looked over to see Culp teeing off on No. 1.
“I’m walking off the green and it must be 7:30 at night,” Ross said. “She just loves golf. Great work ethic.”
Those are probably the two biggest factors in Culp’s rise from a freshman who played in just one varsity match to becoming one of the top players in school history.
Culp transformed her game through countless hours on the course, one example being the four holes she squeezed in before darkness fell Sunday. Her triple-digit scores as a freshman dropped into the 90s, then the 80s, before a major breakthrough late last season.
She won the 4A District 8 title with rounds of 74 at Qualchan and 75 at Wandermere, where she shot 116 as a freshman. She followed that up with scores of 73 and 79 to share 16th place at state.
“As soon as I started playing, I fell in love with it,” Culp said. “I just love doing it, the thrill of shooting low. My scores keep getting lower and lower. It pushes me to keep going.”
Culp kept right on improving this season. She leads the Greater Spokane League in scoring average through four tournaments, with the final event Wednesday at Deer Park. She’s in the driver’s seat to become Mead’s first girls GSL golfer of the year since Amy Eneroth in 2005.
The Panthers are poised to claim their first GSL championship since 1996.
Culp is appreciative of the help she’s received along the way. Ross has helped her mental approach and course management. She’s taken lessons for years from Josh McKinley at GolfTec. She plays and practices at Kalispel, utilizing the simulator when the weather was rotten earlier this spring. When it became tougher to get time on the machine, her dad bought a simulator and put it in the garage.
The results have been impressive. Culp shot a season low 69 at Wandermere. She’s had a pair of 71s in GSL tournaments. Her highest round in four GSL tourneys is a 77.
“I’ve been getting off the tee and keeping it in the fairway, which has helped me on a lot of courses where the rough has been pretty tough,” Culp said. “I’m not trying to do too much, trying to stay away from big numbers. I think I have one double bogey. I’m trying to make pars and let the birdies come.”
Her short game has been strong, which allows her to be more aggressive rolling birdie putts. She works on chipping and putting at Kalispel, and Ross has players do the star drill, aligning tees in the shape of a star roughly 3 to 5 feet from the hole. Players have to make every putt, usually 10 or so, to complete the drill.
College was always in Culp’s future plans, but college golf didn’t enter the picture until her junior season. She discovered her dream school, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, at a college fair in her sophomore year. It was a perfect match with her interest in mechanical engineering.
Culp is in her fourth year in Mead’s engineering program. Last year, she and classmate Delaney Phillips started a women’s engineering club at the school to encourage more girls to join and stay in the program.
She said the appeal of mechanical engineering is “the math and sciences, and I love solving problems and thinking things through.”
As her golf scores started falling into the 70s last season, she thought college golf might be an option. She put together a portfolio with help from her mom and sent it to several schools. Embry-Riddle’s golf coach showed interest in Culp, and she committed to the NAIA school after visiting in December.
College is on the horizon, but Culp’s attention is on the next few weeks. First up, trying to nail down GSL individual and team titles and crack the top 10 at state, which will be held at Hangman Valley on May 21-22.
“It would mean a lot, just to win it for (Ross) and leave my senior year winning the GSL would be great,” Culp said. “It’s definitely within reach.”