Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Eighth-grade student at Morgantown Middle School Jessica Pannell practices her swing with Natchez High School golf team head coach Jerry Baldwin.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Eighth-grade student at Morgantown Middle School Jessica Pannell practices her swing with Natchez High School golf team head coach Jerry Baldwin.

Pannell has star potential as NHS golf’s only eighth-grade girl

Published 12:03am Saturday, April 5, 2014

NATCHEZ — Jessica Pannell just wanted to drive the golf cart when her father took her along on a golf trip last summer, but she soon found out she had more opportunities than driving a vehicle without a driver’s license.

Pannell, an eighth grader at Morgantown Middle School, realized she liked golf after her first couple of swings with a five-iron club.

Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Eighth-grader Jessica Pannell started her first season on the Natchez High School golf team this year.
Brittney Lohmiller / The Natchez Democrat — Eighth-grader Jessica Pannell started her first season on the Natchez High School golf team this year.

And her father, Orlando, was just as into it as she was.

“Her father came to me during football season and asked about the Natchez High golf program, and I told him (Pannell) was eligible to play high school golf in the seventh grade,” Natchez High golf coach Jerry Baldwin said. “When golf season came around he said she was ready to go. I told her 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and he had her there.”

Pannell said once she found out she could play high school golf, her and her father practiced often so she wouldn’t show her age on the course with older players.

Pannell is the only eighth-grader on the golf team and the only girl.

But Pannell said she didn’t let that intimidate her.

“It makes me want to work harder, because I want to beat them,” Pannell said. “I want to show them just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t beat them.”

And Pannell does beat them. Baldwin said she doesn’t hesitate to throw it in their faces.

“She gets along well with the guys on the team, but she gives them a hard time when we play them and beat them,” Baldwin said.

Pannell said practicing with the older guys prepares her for the stiff competition in tournament play.

Most of her competitors are upperclassmen who have been playing golf much longer than she has, but she said she is more focused on her individual goal.

“I want to score lower than 50 by the end of the season,” she said.

Baldwin said Pannell is very capable of reaching her goal. Pannell just scored a 59 in the Duncan Park golf tournament Thursday.

“That’s an attainable goal for her, and she can do it,” Baldwin said. “I encourage her to work at that goal. If she can get to that this year, then the future is awfully bright for her.”

Baldwin said he has faith that Pannell can take her game to the next level if she sticks with it and continues to play.

“She seems to have the mind for the game, not everybody has the mental capacity for golf,” Baldwin said. “And (her game) gets better every week. I’m really impressed with her. By the time she gets deep into high school, you’ll hear her playing for a state title. She’s that good.”

Though Pannell is developing into an elite golfer, her main focus is keeping all As and Bs before heading to Natchez High in the fall.

Unlike most students, Pannell said her favorite subject is actually the one she struggles with the most — math.

“I like doing it, but most of the things I think I understand, it turns out I need more work on,” she said. “But I don’t mind giving my extra time on it because I like it.”

Pannell is the daughter od Chandra and Orlando Pannell.