From homeschool to No. 1 in the state: Pinnacle’s Samantha Olson’s unconventional golf journey

Pinnacle’s Samantha Olson is the top-ranked girls golfer among Arizona junior players. (Photo by Conor Bonfiglio/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The bell rings at 2:10 p.m. to let over 2,000 Pinnacle High School students go home or attend extracurricular activities. Yet one student hasn’t attended a single class.

In fact, junior Samantha Olson has taken home-school classes for most of her life. The remote learning program gives her more time to enhance her golf game, and it’s paid off. She finished in fourth place at the 2021 Division 1 Girls Golf State Championship and is now one of Arizona’s top-rated golfers heading into this year’s title round on Oct. 24 at Omni Tucson National Resort: Catalina course.

“I’m just going to have much more confidence,” Olson said. “Obviously, it’s a little bit shorter yardages (with JGAA red tees), so I think my tee shots are going to be better, and then I’m going to be able to just play the courses better.”

Last year at the Tucson National Sonoran Course, Olson shot par 71 on day one and 1-under-par 71 on day two and has been working to improve all-around for this year’s state tournament. She finished right behind her Pinnacle teammate, senior Carolyn Fuller, who shot 1-over-par 71 on day one and 3-under-par 71 on day two on Tucson’s famed course.

“I’ve known her since I was probably 7 or 8, ever since we started playing junior golf,” Fuller said, “So I’ve known her for a really long time and always been competitive towards each other but obviously friendly.”

Olson is ranked 62nd in Junior Golf Scoreboard national girls rankings, while she is first in Golfweek’s Arizona girls junior rankings and third in the American Junior Golf Association Arizona girls rankings. Her ascent began when she sat out what would have been her first year competing for Pinnacle’s golf team because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She took the year off to refine skills such as her strength, footwork, release, power, accuracy and shot arsenal, and joined the Pioneers in her sophomore year.

The 17-year-old has completed all her high school classes and is taking online college classes to gain credit through Veritas Scholars Academy. The online Christian program doesn’t follow Pinnacle’s curriculum, and it allows her to maximize her individual practice time and coursework.

A devout Christian, Pinnacle girls golfer Samantha Olson showcases her faith through the game of golf. (Photo by Conor Bonfiglio/Cronkite News)

A devout Christian, Pinnacle girls golfer Samantha Olson showcases her faith through the game of golf. (Photo by Conor Bonfiglio/Cronkite News)

“(Online school is) more flexible,” Olson said. “You get a lot more time, and you get to decide when you want to go practice like during the summer, you can go out at 6 a.m. instead of going out at 2 p.m. when it’s like 110 (degrees). I usually go out and practice in the morning and then I go home and do school and then I go to workouts or some variation of that.”

In Olson’s first full season, she finished top five in the American Junior Golf Association Arizona rankings. She has participated in a variety of tournaments, such as the Arizona Silver Belle, PING Heather Farr Classic and 2019 Girls Junior PGA Championship. Her fiery but calm playing style landed her eight first-place, six second-place and five third-place finishes in her career.

“I’ve seen a young lady go from what I call a willow tree to a pretty strong tree now,” Albert Murdock, Olson’s golf instructor, said. “She’s not all over the world with the wind blowing and everything else. Pretty solid, good golf swing (and) good person.”

Murdock has been Olson’s teacher since 2017 and has seen her confidence and swing improve. While she is hard on herself, Murdock has watched her realize she doesn’t have to be perfect on every swing.

Off the green, Murdock has seen Olson’s social skills and Christian faith grow. He believes her faith and connection to God give her the upper hand in matches.

“The faith-based person playing golf has more calmness inside, no matter where you go to school,” Murdock said. “If you have that calmness around you all the time, you’re going to grow even bigger, faster (and) stronger in your religion, base (and) feelings for God, but it’s also going to help you in your golf game.”

Olson is exploring Division 1 colleges. Although she is unsure of what school she will attend, she looks forward to continuing playing the sport she loves while reaching her vast expectations.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Olson said. “I just love practicing, doing the drills, going out and playing. I just have such a love for it that it gives me that passion to go out and practice, and I think that’s why I’m so good. I don’t only enjoy the tournaments and winning. I enjoy grinding it out and practicing.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Derrian Carter expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Carter, who has interned with Tuscaloosa News and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, was a research associate for the Knight-Cronkite News Lab, a fellow for Front Office Sports and a copy editor and reporter for the Poynter Institute.

Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Conor Bonfiglio expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Bonfiglio has interned as a studio production assistant with NBC and the Golf Channel in Connecticut.