As Edinburgh’s bunker continues to grow, so does its golf game

Lounging comfortably in the back room of Timbergate’s pro shop with a pair of pink shark cloud foam slides on her feet, Ava Bunker might as well have been sitting on a sofa in her own living room – which , perhaps not coincidentally, is about a couple of iron strokes away.

Even though Bunker didn’t officially reside in Timbergate, she pretty much lives here now anyway.

Although her address has changed – her family moved from Franklin to Edinburgh at the end of last summer – Bunker is still the same precocious golf phenom she has been for several years, and the 14-year-old continues to make a splash not just locally, but nationally.

His appearance next week in the annual AJGA Circle K Junior Championship at Otter Creek in Columbus sets off a midsummer whirlwind for Bunker. She will spend the first week of July playing in the North & South Junior at Pinehurst No. 2 and No. 6 in North Carolina. The following week (July 12-15) she will compete at the IMG World Junior Golf Championships in Torrey Pines – her first ever trip to California.

Bunker will end her summer vacation by returning to Pinehurst for the US Kids Golf World Teen Championship, a tournament where she placed third in 2021.

There’s plenty of reason to believe she can improve on that performance this time around, as she’s not the same player she was a year or two ago.

For starters, she grew up plot physically – although she’s still only 5ft 1in tall, Bunker is over five inches taller than she was when she was 12, and she’s starting to add muscle to her frame thanks to a regular workout with Mike Christman at the Fitness Garage in Carmel.

This ongoing metamorphosis has helped her add some distance to her shots; Bunker estimates his trips went from around 190 yards to over 230 in about a year.

“It definitely helped me a lot,” Bunker said of his physical growth. “I also worked on generating power with my legs and my strength on the ground. … I drive in the ground, pretty much, so it actually generates a lot of power, especially with my rider.

Of course, she’s still shorter than most of the girls she plays against, especially since Bunker regularly plays in age and competes in the 15-18 division. As she always has in the past, she makes the difference by staying consistent and hitting the ball straight.

Hitting fairways and getting greens in regulation has always been Bunker’s calling card, with an elite short game.

“If I miss the green, I have to make sure my highs and lows are on point,” she said.

“Ava has learned that keeping the ball in play is a major part of her success,” added her swing coach, Jeff Smith. “There are a lot of people out there who can hit a little bit further than she can right now, but if they don’t play they’re out of contention.”

Bunker hasn’t been out of action often.

She was the 2020 GolfWeek Junior Tour Player of the Year, winning three of eight events and placing in the top 10 seven times. She was even better last year – in 11 tour starts, Bunker collected five wins and eight top three finishes.

This year, Bunker has finished in the top eight in 12 of his first 13 tournaments, winning four of them. Those wins include two more GolfWeek crowns and an Indiana Junior Golf Spring Series event at Kokomo Country Club on May 15 that saw Bunker shoot a 7-under-par 63 – which was not only his career-lowest but also set a new course record.

She had five under-par rounds this year in all, four more than she had previously in her tournament life.

“I shot under a lot more, which is good,” Bunker said.

Such tricks should be more common in the future. Between his physical maturation and the switch to firmer club shafts that helped his consistency, the physical tools are all there.

What separates Bunker from his peers, however, is all between the ears, according to Smith.

“The struggle now is always to keep it at a high level,” he said. “What is going to make all of this happen is the discipline she has. Most people, most gamers, don’t have what she has, and that’s the willingness to sacrifice a lot of other things to be successful. She does, and it’s one of the main reasons why she will remain a great player.

Due to her busy travel schedule for tournaments, Bunker had long been debating whether or not she wanted to play high school golf once she started her freshman year in August. She has, however, found an arrangement that suits her; Bunker will continue his studies remotely, but will do so through Columbus North – a team that, luckily, practices at Timbergate.

Bunker will be able to take home classes during the day (when she’s home, at least), then walk down the street and play with her Bull Dog teammates.

“I didn’t know if I wanted it,” Bunker said. “It wasn’t a big concern, but I was like, ‘That would be fun.’ It will be good to get to know some people, even if I can’t do so many tournaments (during the season), it will still be nice to gain this experience.

And, as Smith pointed out, you can’t win a state championship if you never play for one.

By the start of the school season, Bunker will accumulate most of his experience in other parts of the country, testing his skills on some of the most prestigious and challenging courses the sport has to offer. She has won 92 tournaments since she started competing in 2015, and there will be plenty more to come if she continues to progress as she has.

Bunker has always been very good. The question now is: how good can she get?

“As good as she wants to be,” Smith said. “She is the only limit.”

Michael C. Ford