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Gifted on the green

Jinger Heath shows her skill on the golf course

Photos by Jim Meadows and contributed

Hartselle sophomore Jinger Heath has strung together many wins in her career as a golfer. Heath first picked up a club at the age of 9 and, in the seven years since, has rocketed to the top of leaderboards at every tournament she plays.

She played her first 18 holes the same year she took her first swing.

“When I first started, I wasn’t good at it and didn’t like it, but my dad kept bringing me to the golf course, and I started getting better,” said Heath. “I fell in love with the game, and there’s nowhere I would rather be than the golf course.”

Heath grew up with Burningtree No. 16 as her backyard, allowing her to work on her game on a daily basis. She said her father, Mike Heath, was instrumental in helping develop her love for the game. He started by bringing her brother Ryley, a 2021 graduate of Hartselle, out to the course, and then he introduced Jinger to the game.

Having a brother who also plays has pushed Heath to work on her game. She would hold her own against her brother and his teammates on the Tigers’ boys golf team. “My brother has been my biggest inspiration on and off the course,” said Heath. “He is a great brother and has taught me a lot.”

Heath’s accomplishments on the course have been numerous: She won the 12-13 age division of the Alabama Girls State Junior Championship by 14 strokes in 2017. As a seventh-grader, she became the youngest winner of the Morgan County Tournament. She also advanced to the AHSAA 6A State Championships, where she finished fifth.

“High school golf was new to me as a seventh-grader,” said Heath. “Being on the team and helping them win the Morgan County Tournament made my win even more exciting.”

As a seventh-grader, she won five tournaments. “I felt good about my team and the work I was putting in,” she said. “I went into every tournament that year intending to win.”

She repeated as the Morgan County Tournament champion as an eighth-grader and finished fourth in the 6A State Championships.

Her chance at three straight Morgan County titles was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic that ended spring sports in 2020, but she returned from the hiatus to dominate the 2021 Morgan County Tournament by shooting a 71 to win by seven strokes.

“Knowing we had lost a whole year of playing made every round, score and win that much more intense and wanted,” said Heath. “This was a special season.”

Her high school coach, Chad Gladden, said Heath has unbelievable potential. “It is easy to coach a golfer like Jinger. She is one of the most committed and dedicated golfers I have ever coached,” said Gladden. “She rarely makes mistakes on the course, and when she does, she recovers really well. Also, she is very competitive and has a lot of confidence in her abilities.”

Heath said the most significant influence on her game has been her personal golf coach, Mike Odom, who passed away earlier this year. “He was an amazing man,” said Heath. “He knew more about golf than anyone I had ever met. I learned so much about golf and life in the five years he was my coach.”

She said Odom’s death has left a void in her life, but she carries memories of him every time she is on the course.

Heath’s parents are her biggest encouragers. They are with her wherever she plays and picks her up when things aren’t going her way.

“My dad has told me that he has set me up to succeed but the rest is up to me,” Heath said. “My dad wanted my brother and me to have a skill that could create opportunities for us.”

Mom, Vicky Heath said golf has taught her daughter so much about determination, pride and integrity. “Along the way, she has met and made so many lifelong friends with amazing young people who are each inspiring,” Vicky said. “It really feels good to know the investments we made are paying off.”

Each moment that Heath and her brother are on the course is special to her parents. “If I had to choose one moment that stands out above the others, it would be from sectionals this year at Canebrake in Athens,” said Vicky. ”It was just a great moment for me because Jinger and Ryley both won sectionals on the same day. This was the first time that both won at the same time. I cannot explain how good this made me feel.”

Heath and her late coach, Mike Odom.

Heath has a lot of golf left to play in her life, and she said she plans on making a career out of the game.

“My plans are to continuing playing the game I love,” she said. ”I want to win state with my team next year and do it again my senior year. Then I want to play golf in college and continue to hone my skills. After college, I hopefully will have a chance to play on the LPGA tour.”