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Not afraid to fail - Women’s Amateur Golf Champion, Ella Kozak

With a wisdom that seems well beyond her years, Ella Kozak of Yorkton effortlessly draws a parallel between life and sport.

“Don’t be intimidated. It’s easy to quit things,” said Ella. “It’s easy to do the bare minimum. But if you push yourself – and even better – if you can find someone who can push you, it can be really good in the end.”

Having trained steadily in both golf and speed swimming for the past eight years, Ella said she has adapted to learning from both personal failure and success, and she intends to take those lessons from sports into other aspects of her life.

“Swimming and golf are two completely different experiences,” she explained. “Both are individual sports, but for golf – you’re completely in your head. And it is long – like five hours. You have to be rested, focused, and hydrated [for the duration]. You have to be aware of your nutrition choices, pacing yourself to perform well over a number of hours, be prepared with snacks, and manage your time properly. For swimming, you could be having a terrible day and once you hit the water, you just go – you don’t think about anything else, and you could still make a great time. And it’s all over quickly.”

After giving up her six-stroke lead at a championship tournament on July 5/6, the 15-year-old held strong and pulled off the win with a single stroke. She was declared the 2021 Saskatchewan Women’s Amateur Golf Champion. Ella said the experience was as exhilarating as it was nerve-wracking.

“It was all mental,” said Ella. “I was doing really well and I was up, but then got in my head too much, and by the end…it was really close.”

“We were getting pretty nervous. It was such a relief when she sunk that last three-foot putt,” shared Ella’s dad and mentor, Robert Kozak.

Ella began golfing with her dad when she was just seven years old at the Deer Park Municipal Golf Course in Yorkton. By the time she was nine, she was entering tournaments like the Maple Leaf Junior Tour for children under 12. Now, it is her younger sister, Molly, (8) who is picking up the sport, and interestingly – both girls golf left-handed, just like their dad.

The family was interviewed at the Madge Lake Golf Course – one of Ella’s favourite courses in Saskatchewan, which is located across the highway from the Madge Lake Riding Stables where Dianna often takes Molly to enjoy one of her own passions – horseback riding.

“We used to come to Madge Lake when we were kids,” shared Robert, who is now an owner at Yorkton RE/MAX Blue Chip Realty in Yorkton. “We made a lot of great memories out here - the golf, the lakes, the camping.”

Over the years, Robert has been the devoted “golf dad” who has sacrificed much of his free time to nurture and support Ella’s athletic talents. Coming from a background in hockey, Robert says he enjoys golfing, but is more of a mentor to Ella than a coach. The pair has travelled to a number of tournaments throughout the prairies.

Last winter, Ella, who holds both Canadian and American citizenship, travelled to Florida with her mother, Dianna (who is an American citizen) to train at the prestigious Henry Brunton Golf Academy where participants trained 10 hours every day in LPGA style practices.

“The training was intense,” described Ella. “We had to do exercises like putting 150 times in a row from four feet and if you miss one you have to start over. The academies down in Florida are just something that is not available in Canada due to the long winters. I would golf for five months of the year in Saskatchewan and then hit balls in my garage for the other seven months.  In Florida, the coaches are always with us and set up different drills to improve all aspects of my game. They really stress repetition so you can execute your shots under pressure, as it becomes second nature. I probably practiced more in two weeks in Florida then I had in two years in Saskatchewan.”

“Ella worked so hard,” shared Dianna. “After a huge day I expected her to be exhausted, but she couldn’t wait to call her dad and tell him about everything she learned that day.”

Robert added, “That’s when I realized she was truly passionate about golf. We have to find all of our own courses and tournaments. There is no blueprint for families. Most of our holidays revolve around tournaments now, and I am very lucky that I can be flexible with my work schedule.”

As she travels the circuit with her dad, Ella said she sees the same group of passionate girls who challenge her at competitions across the country. Many of them keep connected socially and have become good friends. A number of coaches have also helped Ella sharpen her skills along the way – whether it be technique, strategy, short game, or using analytical technology.

“What’s exciting to me is that there is always something I can work on,” said Ella. “The rules in golf are very precise and can be intimidating. I have studied them a lot, but I still get nervous sometimes – thinking, did I drop the ball from the right height? There are so many rules to have to remember on top of everything else.”

As for her future, Ella is open to the idea that she could one day enter the professional golfing arena, but is also clear that her education is very important to her.

“I truly believe I was meant to teach and I am so inspired by my aunt. I dream of someday being that teacher – the one that changes lives.”

Ella says she hopes to earn a golf scholarship and go to university on the west coast where she loves the environment – the mist, the ocean, and the rainy winters.