- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Sydney Pomajzl grabs her navy golf bag, which has two straps like a backpack, and begins walking up a hill to the next hole.

Everyone in her group — and the next, and the one after that — is out of breath after ascending the steep hill at the Buffalo Golf Club. Many others, however, use bags with wheels that can be pushed like a stroller.

Pomajzl carries the clubs on her back all the way up. After putting her bag down, she catches up with her coach, talking privately about the morning’s round while waiting on another group to finish their tee shots.

Soon, it’s her turn.

The 16-year-old steps onto the tee and begins her normal routine, taking a practice swing and bouncing her feet seven or eight times.

Left, right, left, right …

Eventually Pomajzl settles in, begins her swing and strikes the ball toward the green. She takes a few seconds to watch the shot slowly land, holding her finish without re-adjusting.

Her prosthetic leg is still rotated from her follow through.

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Steve and Rikki Pomajzl had a startling introduction to parenthood.

Their daughter was born without a fibula in her right leg, meaning she had just one of two bones to connect her foot with her knee.

“As parents it was pretty devastating for about the first month,” her father, Steve, said.

Steve and Rikki drove their daughter to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Salt Lake City. Doctors suggested they amputate her leg below her knee.

At 13 months old, it was gone.

About six weeks later, Pomajzl was fitted for her first prosthetic leg. She was walking a week thereafter.

The prosthetic leg has become second nature to Pomajzl, now a sophomore 4.0 student at Cody High School and a member of last year’s Class 3A state champion golf team.

“The amazing thing about this kid is we’ve been waiting and waiting for 15 years for her to complain,” Steve said, “About ‘Why am I different?’ . about ‘Why?’ anything.”

Steve and Rikki explained to Sydney in grade school why she had a prosthesis, which starts just below her knee. Pomajzl was never too concerned with it and was lucky to have good friends who always treated her the same.

She also benefited from knowing Chad Smith and his family. Smith, a third-grade teacher and the golf coach at Cody, has a son, Laine, about the same age as Pomajzl and the two kids attended preschool together.

The families have remained close over the years, especially for the past two.

While Pomajzl was a freshman playing golf for Smith in 2014, her younger sister, Kelsey, was in Smith’s third-grade classroom.

“Whenever someone did something wrong they’d tattle on each other,” Steve said.

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Pomajzl was raised around golf, even if it wasn’t always her passion.

With her father’s enthusiasm for the sport and having grown up near Olive Glenn Golf and Country Club in Cody, she’s been golfing for most of her life.

In second or third grade, she joined a junior golf program. Pomajzl played sporadically during summers, but wasn’t super competitive.

Her leg had nothing to do with it. Sports were always a part of her life.

“If she wanted to play volleyball, she could play volleyball,” Steve said. “She might not be the best and might have to work a little harder, but she could play volleyball just as easy as anybody else.”

In middle school Pomajzl played on the ‘A’ volleyball team and ‘B’ basketball team. She broke the feet on three prosthetic legs within 18 months. Two in volleyball, one in basketball.

Still, Pomajzl wanted to focus on just one sport by the time she got to high school, and basketball and volleyball “weren’t really doing anything” for her.

She decided on golf.

“This is a good medium because I’m still getting the exercise, but not having to run on it as much,” she said.

As Pomajzl prepared to finish eighth grade, Cody was having trouble finding enough girl golfers to field a team. Because Smith already knew Pomajzl, she had an opportunity to play in the spring for the high school team.

Since then, golf has been her love.

“I just like hitting that one shot that feels really good,” she said. “It just keeps you coming back every time. That’s probably what keeps me going.”

Rikki said the timing of when Sydney joined the team was ideal. It gave her confidence to be part of a team, rather than playing as an individual.

Last year Cody had one senior, Sydney Gunn, and this year Abbey Brasher is the lone senior. Because of that stability, Pomajzl and most of her teammates have gone through the same experiences together.

Smith said this year’s team is the most close-knit group he’s coached, boys or girls, in his 10 years.

“It just seems like right away she just fit in, they encouraged each other,” Rikki said. “She needed confidence and a good set of friends at this point in high school.”

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Pomajzl has been using a prosthesis to walk for as long as she can remember.

“I’ve always dealt with it,” she said. “It’s just kind of part of me and I don’t really feel ashamed about it, because that’s just how it is.

“It’s kind of just something I’ve learned to work with and live with.”

Pomajzl eventually outgrows or breaks each prosthesis and needs a replacement. She’s gone through 14 legs in about as many years and each one has been a little different, either by size or appearance.

“It’s always a process to figure out what her design would be each year,” Rikki said, “and it’s been interesting to watch her style choices change as she’s grown up.”

The prostheses Pomajzl wears are made in Casper, so she and Rikki made a trip to the mall about a year ago before meeting with the specialist to choose her most recent one. Much to her mother’s chagrin, Pomajzl still wasn’t sure on a design. They tried on shoes and walked around before passing a shop with a “grungy” American flag shirt.

“I could just see in her face she had seen something really exciting and she just said, ‘There it is, that’s it,’” Rikki said. “I looked at it and it was perfect. How could a mom be more proud than that?

“It just summed up a lot of things about her. She’s a very patriotic girl.”

Pomajzl’s current prosthesis looks like the flag. It has vertical stripes and stars at the top, facing the inside of her leg.

Pomajzl, however, was having problems with it during last year’s state tournament, so she brought a spare, which sat on the back of the marker golf cart following her group that day.

Because Cody plays against many of the same teams each week, other golfers don’t think much of it. But every now and then she’ll play with someone new, who wonders what happened.

“Usually I forget about it and (people) ask me and I’m like ‘Oh yeah, that’s right,’” she said. “I just tell them and it’s no big deal. Everyone’s really nice about it.”

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Coaching Pomajzl isn’t much different for Smith than any other golfer he’s instructed in the past decade. The mental side of golf remains the same for almost everyone.

Her swing, however, isn’t as comparable to others.

Smith has taken significant time to conduct research online and consult golf professionals about how to coach Pomajzl.

Because the prosthesis is on her right side, she can’t load much weight onto her back leg during her swing. That, in turn, results in a loss of power and a lower shot trajectory, something Pomajzl needs to account for in advance of each hole.

“I don’t know if she’s ever going to hit with a lot of power, but she does hit it well for girls her age,” Smith said.

Pomajzl will struggle with shots that require a longer carry or higher ball flight. But that’s not much of a concern because Smith teaches all golfers to focus on their short game.

Even when Pomajzl isn’t playing up to par, the leg is never an excuse. It’s almost as if her prosthesis doesn’t exist.

“It’s kind of hard to turn on it just because it’s an awkward ‘thing,’” Pomajzl said, “but I kind of just started doing whatever I’m doing since day one. I’ve never really known different, so it’s easy to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Because they’ve known each other for so long, Pomajzl and Smith are close. She said he knows her mind and can guess what she’s thinking and what she’s going to say before she speaks.

Steve and Rikki call Smith a “super coach,” who is always there for encouragement and guidance.

That’s helped golf remain a family activity for the entire Pomajzl family. Steve has given up the leagues he plays in to spend more time with Sydney. They golf often, even if it’s just two holes at night.

“It’s a family thing,” Steve said. “Definitely Syd and I have a pretty close bond and once I learn to shut up and not coach her and just be a dad, friend to play with, we get along much better.”

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Pomajzl is getting better as time goes on and as she feels more comfortable with her swing. In the past year, her stroke average has improved by 15 shots.

While Cody won its fourth state title since 2007 last year, Pomajzl didn’t make an impact until the first day of the state championship.

Although her scores improved throughout the fall of her freshman year, they never counted. Five girls can play per team, but only the top three scores each tournament are counted for team points.

Consistently being the fourth player allowed Pomajzl to learn and develop her game without pressure.

“It was ‘get some experience and if you do score one day that’s great,’” she said, “but this year it’s more focused on ‘You can do it.’”

Now, she’s one of the team leaders. She’s finished in the top 10 in two of the team’s four tournaments this season. That includes a 10th-place finish last week at the Class 3A West Regional in Rawlins, qualifying her for all-conference recognition.

Given that she’s been playing competitive golf for only about two years, Pomajzl spent much of the summer working on her mentality, knowing she already possesses the ability. She focused on the little things, like scoring shots and putts.

“It’s inspiring,” Smith said. “With the type of person she is, she doesn’t give up. She just keeps trying.”

Pomajzl is shy, but confident. Smith believes she can be an all-state player for her final three years and has the ability to continue playing in college if she wants.

“She’s a voice of reason,” Smith said. “Her opinion, her thoughts, they’re very well respected by everyone on the team. Not just the girls, but the boys and the coaching staff.

Through and through, Pomajzl says golf is a perfect fit.

“I never thought I’d go anywhere with golf and now I love it,” she said. “It’s something I definitely enjoy in my life.

“Just give anything a shot and try your best because you never know.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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