Ellie Bushnell was doing one-handed cartwheels – showing perfect form along the way – at just 3 years old…
She was playing competitive, high-level youth basketball and soccer in elementary school.
“Her athleticism is a big plus. She knows how to generate speed,” said Ellie’s father, Dave Bushnell. “She’s been a great athlete. She’s an incredible point guard, a great ball handler and a great outside shooter. She got her hands on the ball a lot. She was good enough that she was going to an all-star game at 10 and controlling the game.”
For the last six years, since she was 10, Ellie Bushnell’s focus has been on golf – practicing, working on her swing and overall game, traveling around Northern California, the state and country to play in junior tournaments. She is a sophomore at Granite Bay High School and a member of the girls golf team, one of the top programs in the state.
This year, she won five overall titles on the Junior Golf Association of Northern California circuit, capping her outstanding season by tying for low medalist honors in October with a 2-under-par 70 – a round that was highlighted by birdies on Nos. 12, 16 and 18 – in the girls 14-18 division of the Tournament of Champions on the very challenging North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa and being named as the Girls Player of the Year.
The award, Bushnell said, means a lot of things to her.
“It shows how hard I worked. It shows how hard my dad worked, how he helped me,” she said. “It shows all the support my friends and family gave me. It shows what I’ve worked for, for the past six years.
“It means a lot getting that award. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of my dad. I’m proud of my family. I’m very, very grateful to everyone that has helped me.”
Ellie Bushnell is one of the top junior players, not only in Northern California, but in the state.
She has a great record to back it up.
- She tied a 38-year-old scoring record, shooting a spectacular 5-under par 67 at El Macero Country Club in Yolo County to win the individual title as a freshman in 2019 at the California Interscholastic Federation Northern California Championships. Bushnell’s super round propelled Granite Bay to a second-place team finish, only one shot behind Dougherty Valley-San Ramon, the team champion.
- She fired a 2-over-par 73, placing ninth individually and leading Granite Bay to a fourth-place team finish at the 2019 CIF State Golf Championships at Poppy Hills Golf Course, located at Pebble Beach.
- This past July, she won the girls 15-18 division of the Future Champions Golf Callaway World Golf Championship, played at Temecula Creek Golf Club in Temecula. She had rounds of 67, 74 and 75 for a 3-over-par 216 total.
- Bushnell, who plays out of Granite Bay Golf Club, won five titles during the 2020 Junior Golf Association of Northern California season. Those victories came at the JGANC/Northern California Golf Association NorCal Players Championship at The Links at Spanish Bay, located at Pebble Beach (77-76 – 153), Sacramento County Junior at Cherry Island Golf Course (72-74 – 146), Haggin Oaks Junior Championship at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex’s Arcade Creek Course (66), Spring Creek Junior Championship at Spring Creek Golf & Country Club in Ripon (76), and the Folds of Honor Junior Championship at Rancho Murieta Country Club’s North Course (80-74 – 154).
- She finished second, just one shot out of first place, in the Girls College Prep Division of the Future Champions Golf Tour’s National Tour’s Northern California Opener at Silverado in January. Bushnell shot 71 on the South Course and 79 on the North Course.
- She was second in the girls 13-14 Division of the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in 2019, shooting rounds of 68 and 73 for a 5-under 211 total at The Country Club of Rancho Bernardo.
- Bushnell and Kirstin Angosta of Henderson, Nev., finished first at a 2020 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Qualifying at Turlock Golf & Country Club. They shot 68. * In July, she tied for 15th in stroke play qualifying at the 54th California Women’s Amateur Championship, shooting 76-73 – 149 at Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Cruz. Bushnell lost in the Round of 32 to Katherine Muzi of Newport Beach, 3 and 2.
- In September, she placed seventh in the championship division of the Women’s California State Fair Golf Championship, shooting 74-73 – 147 at Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course in Sacramento.
“She absolutely does potentially have a very bright future, but it’s one day at a time,” said Dave Bushnell. “After being the medalist in the NorCals, she knew all eyes were on her when she played in the CIF State Championships at Poppy Hills. She had (college) coaches following her.”
The 2021 tournament calendar and season shapes up as a big one for Ellie, as she plans to play in a qualifier for the U.S. Women’s Open. It will be played June 3-6 at The Olympic Club’s Lake Course in San Francisco.
She will also play in qualifiers for both the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“She’s got a good mannerism out there on the golf course. That’s what I think is going take her far,” said Dave Bushnell.
“She does well under pressure. I think she gained that ability to perform under pressure from when she was 9-10 years old, from having to shoot free throws at the end of the game.”
Balancing her schedule
Ellie Bushnell puts a lot of time into her game – playing, practicing and working throughout the year on her swing.
She is also a straight-A student and takes a tough course load, with advanced placement and college prep classes.
“She’s a pretty well-rounded kid,” said Dave Bushnell. “She’s a very good student, and that’s something I demand of her – that if she is going to go off and play golf, that she gets her degree first.
“She spends a good amount of balanced time with friends that aren’t golfers.”
Ellie also takes time to help out younger players in the game, spending part of her day by talking with them.
“She’s the kid that really likes to be of service, like out at the golf course, with all the other younger kids. Just five years ago, she was one of those young junior kids,” said Dave Bushnell. “She drops what she’s doing in practice and she goes and spends time with them. She works with people and she’ll go out and play with them and work with them out on the course.
“She’s a real big benefit for other junior golfers that are aspiring to do what she’s done. As her father, that’s probably where I’m the most proud of is that she really spends time unselfishly. She’d rather help somebody else than work on her game.”
Ellie Bushnell has a team around her that provides support and assistance in the game of golf.
“We call it ‘Team Ellie,’ ” said Dave Bushnell.
The team consists of Dave Bushnell; Elliot Hall, a teaching professional at Granite Bay Golf Club; and Bobby Clampett, who played on the PGA Tour from 1980 to 1995 and has been a network TV golf announcer and analyst for CBS Sports, CBS Sports Network and Turner Sports over the years.
Ellie has also gotten help from Heather LeMaster, the Women’s World Long Drive champion in 2013.
“We started with a concept of a swing and we continue that right to this day,” said Dave Bushnell. “Elliott Hall is a phenomenal guy. He knows the golf swing really well. He and I have discussions before we put anything on the table for Ellie.”
Said Ellie: “Altogether, I wouldn’t say my swing has changed that much. Because if you look at a video of me swinging when I first started to me now, you could probably say it’s the same swing. Just modified. It looks the same. Just a couple of things that we’ve worked on.”
There is so much that Dave Bushnell has done to help out Ellie with her game over the years, as far as passing on his knowledge and experience in the game.
“My dad has always been there for me. I’m really grateful for that,” she said. “In these six years, he’s always helped me. There have been times where I was kind of down, in my golf game. I wanted to take some time off. But he just kept it in my mind, that as I keep going, good things will happen. So I stuck with that. I’m really, really lucky to have a dad that knows this much about the game.”
Ellie, who turns 16 in December, has worked hard on the mental part of the game, always looking to play with a confident, positive outlook and approach.
“It’s tough trying to hit a good shot every time. But when I hit a bad shot, I’m not telling myself, ‘OK, this isn’t your day Ellie.’ I’m never telling myself that. I’m always telling myself, ‘OK, hit a bad shot on the first shot of the round, it’s fine. You’ll recover from it. Just do better on the next one.’
“I’d say sometimes I am down on myself. But I always try and come back. I always just try and forget about something that happened that I didn’t like. And I try and put that into account for my next shot and try and learn from it.”
Dave Bushnell’s background in golf
Dave Bushnell played golf at Oakmont High in Roseville. From there, he continued in the game, playing for Coach Joe Carlson at UC Davis. Bushnell played for the Aggies when they won the NCAA Division II title in 1979.
Carlson, a member of the Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame, was the golf coach for 24 years and led the Aggies to 16 appearances at the NCAA Championships.
Bushnell played out of Sunset Whitney Golf Course in Rocklin. One of those individuals that he learned about the game from was Jim Wright, the head golf professional at Sunset Whitney.
Bushnell was not able to play competitive golf any more after injuring his ankle when he fell off a two-story roof.
Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.