Diminutive Franklin golfer thinking big

Ava Bunker’s name is a bit misleading, given how little time she spends in the sand when she’s on the golf course.

The 11-year-old Franklin resident has made up for her lack of size and driving distance with pinpoint accuracy and an impeccable short game, and as a result she’s become one of the top golfers in the country for her age.

Last weekend, Bunker tied for 25th in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, shooting a three-round total of 240 on Pinehurst No. 6 in North Carolina. Her second-round score of 75 was her lowest in a tournament to date; she’s gone as low as 69 in practice on her home layout at The Legends.

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Bunker started playing golf at the age of 5 and has been hooked on the sport since.

“My dad brought home an old set of beaten-up golf clubs,” Bunker said. “I saw them, and I just took to it right away. I was like, (gasp). Once I was 6, I started to compete, and my career just took off.”

Since her family moved to Franklin five years ago — Ava’s father, Jason, is a retired Army officer — Bunker has dominated her competition. She has finished 22 Indiana Junior Golf Tour events since 2016 and won all 22, firing a 2-under-par 33 in a nine-hole event last June and winning by 40 strokes over 36 holes at the Age Group Championship in French Lick this summer.

Bunker hasn’t let her astounding success go to her head thus far; she’s constantly working to address any perceived holes in her game.

“If I don’t do so good in a match, I kind of drive to get my goals,” she said. “Say my chipping was off that day, I want to do a chipping lesson with my coach (The Legends head pro Crystal Morse).”

As driven as she is on the course, Bunker still allows herself time to be a kid. She likes spending time with her friends around the neighborhood, and she enjoys robotics and other science-related activities.

“People say she’ll be two different kids,” Ava’s mother Sophia said. “She’s on the golf course for hours and super focused … and then she gets off the course, and she’s on her scooter or with her friends.”

Golf is Bunker’s top priority, though. A sixth-grader, she’s in her second year taking classes online through Indiana Online Connections Academy, and she plans to continue on that track to allow herself more time on the golf course. She hasn’t ruled out taking some classes at Franklin so that she can be on the golf team in high school, but that decision can wait a couple of years.

“I’ll figure it out when I get there,” Bunker said. “Right now I’m just focused on getting better and winning more tournaments.”

She plans to start playing in American Junior Golf Association events next season, once she’s old enough to be eligible (Bunker turns 12 next month). If she can maintain her current trajectory, she’d like to play college golf at the University of Oregon and eventually make it to the LPGA Tour. If not, she’d like to become a coach and teach young players.

At 4-foot-10, Bunker is often a head shorter than many of the girls she’s competing against, and she’s only able to drive the ball about 160 to 180 yards off the tee right now. But she’s found ways to make up that lost distance.

“I have to have straight drives,” Bunker said. “I don’t drive it as far as some of the girls. … The short game is where you can get them, the putting and the chipping, but you have to have a straight drive to do that.”

That approach to the game, coupled with a contagiously effervescent personality, has proven to be a winning formula thus far, and Morse thinks it will continue to be.

“Ava brings a ton of energy to the golf course, and everywhere else,” Morse said. “As long as she keeps that good attitude, she can go as far as she wants to go.”