When Josie Brundage got word that Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville was putting together a golf team in the fall of 2018, she was the one girl eager to join in with the boys.
Brundage had played some with her older brother Jeb and attended a few clinics before that, and got a kick out of swinging a club, smacking the small ball and challenging herself.
There’s more to it, though.
“The first year of the team, my brother wanted to play,” Brundage said. “I decided I wanted to play, too, because it was not a contact sport.”
It’s not that Brundage wouldn’t like to try her hand at volleyball, basketball, soccer or even flag football, but those sports are out of bounds for the trailblazing youngster, who still yearns to compete despite the Marfan syndrome that is as much a part of her life as her outgoing nature and ability to make others smile.
“I really try to be optimistic with everything,” the 16-year-old junior said before competing in the recent Western Athletic Conference championship tournament. “I am out to prove that even with this, you can find ways around it.”
Playing golf is one of those ways.
Marfan syndrome is a disorder that affects the connective tissue in many parts of the body. Connective tissue provides strength and flexibility for bones, ligaments, muscles, blood vessels and heart valves.
“I can’t play any contact sports, even in gym class,” Brundage, who danced and played T-Ball when she was much younger, explained. “If I were to get hit or do something too strenuous, it could affect me. The older I got, it became more of an issue.”
It hasn’t stopped the Oppenheim resident from swinging away on the golf course, or from participating with the OESJ cheerleading team that she joined as a sophomore, either.
“It’s good for kids to have something,” OESJ golf coach T.J. Jordan said. “Golf has given Josie that something. There’s nothing in the game that can hold her back.”
Brundage has steadily climbed the OESJ depth chart in her time with the team, first serving as an extra in her freshman year, earning the No. 6 match position as a sophomore, and earning a middle-of-the-lineup role this season.
“I’ve only been playing three years, so I may not be the best, but I’m going to keep working at it,” Brundage said.
“She likes it,” said Holly Brundage, the teen’s mom. “She likes to have a good time, but she is also very competitive out there.”
Striving for low numbers is just one part of the golf experience for Josie Brundage.
“I am extremely competitive and I want to win, but there’s more to it,” said Brundage, who was joined on the team this season by four girls who had previously played soccer. “My favorite part [of golf] is making friendships. It’s such a unique sport because you can talk with your opponent.”
Brundage’s range of friends spans from her peers, to the elementary school kids she has spoken to several times about overcoming obstacles, to the older folks at the local nursing home that she tends to as a “Helping Hand.”
“Pretty much I do anything that needs to be done [at the nursing home],” said Brundage, a strong student who can envision herself someday working professionally in the medical field. “My favorite part is listening to their stories.”
Brundage has a story she likes to tell, too, one from the first of several golf matches she played with Middleburgh students Lily Rossmann and Isabel “Izzy” Skowfoe in September 2018.
“It was such a cool experience because it was the first time we played against other girls,” Brundage said. “We talked the entire match, and took pictures and had a great time.”
Golf brought the trio together, and while the friendship between Brundage and Rossmann continues to grow, the other between Brundage and Skowfoe is one the OESJ student-athlete said she will always cherish.
Skowfoe was born with a heart syndrome called 22q11.2, or DiGeorge, and before her death in late July at the age of 18, she left a huge impression on so many people, including Brundage.
“The first day I met her, she said she had a heart condition, too, and we connected that way, as well as with the golf,” Brundage said of the popular Girl Scout, actor and author who graduated from Middleburgh last June. “Really, she was the coolest person in the world. She was so positive. She changed the way I think about things; not only when I am playing golf, but in life. Sometimes you’ve got to let it go.”
Brundage did just that on a hole at the WAC championships when she swung toward the ball and a rooster not too far off simultaneously blurted out a loud cock-a-doodle-doo that pierced through the air. Brundage flinched slightly and topped the ball, let out an “Oh shucks,” and laughed at herself a bit, then quickly found her ball and smacked it again with an improved result.
“Last year, I would get so down on myself,” Brundage said in reference to her dribbler on the Hopson Hills Golf Course. “Izzy changed my mindset. Why get so worked up about it when I can do better on the next one?”
Brundage said she often thinks of Skowfoe when out on the links.
“This season, I was playing with a boy from Canajoharie. He was not doing his best and he was so upset,” Brundage recalled. “We were walking to the last hole and I said, ‘I’m going to tell you a sad story, but it’s going to help you.’ So I told him about Izzy and how she was so positive, and that she had passed away this summer. It must have had an effect because on the last hole he hit this shot that was just insane.”
Brundage has had some of those, too, during her varsity career, which includes her participation in the first Section II girls’ championship tournament last fall, as well as this season’s WAC title event.
Jordan said Brundage is looking forward to playing in those events one more time as a senior while improving her game, and at the same time, as a team leader, helping some less-experienced players improve theirs.
“I thought it was great when she joined the team. She wasn’t afraid to try,” said Jordan. “She is a really good advocate for girls’ golf.”