A part of golf is dealing with the terrain of a course, but for a pair of golfers on the Ohio State women’s team, the focus is on the skies as well.
Although senior Alanis Sakuma and freshman Jillian Bourdage are bound by their membership on the Ohio State women’s golf team, the duo’s connection is made stronger by their shared passion for aviation. Competing on the golf course and piloting planes, the two out-of-state students are at two different points on a journey that has led them to Ohio State.
Sakuma, a native of Kapolei, Hawaii, developed a passion for aviation from both her love for travel and her father’s background in production management for aircraft.
In terms of her love for golf, however, the relationship was born from her mother’s job as an accountant at the Kapolei Golf Club.
“When I was 8 years old, I guess I was just like, ‘I want to try this,’ and I just started and fell in love with the game,” Sakuma said.
Bourdage also started her golf career around the age of 8. Following her father taking her to a local driving range in Florida, Bourdage took a golf lesson in which the instructor told her that she had potential in the sport.
“Ever since then, I just really enjoy being on a golf course, and I guess my love for the game has taken flight since then,” Bourdage said.
Bourdage was the 2019 Florida State Golf Association Girls Junior champion and Player of the Year, as well as the runner-up at the 2019 United States Golf Association Girls Junior Championship.
The Woodmont Country Club, which Bourdage grew up on, was located near another area of interest for the Tamarac, Florida, native: the Pompano Beach Airpark.
It was during the fall of her freshman year of high school as a member of the First Tee of Broward County, a group that teaches kids golf and life skills, that Bourdage came to a realization during one of the group’s outreach events with the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.
While young cancer patients were admiring the planes flying overhead, Bourdage, who had contemplated being an aerospace engineer up to that point, had a change of heart.
“I thought to myself, ‘Why build the planes when I can fly them?’” Bourdage said. “And I’ve just been hooked on aviation, and it’s become a passion of mine.”
Since then, Bourdage has done solo flights over the Everglades. Describing the experience of flying solo as “empowering,” Bourdage and Sakuma, who completed her first solo flight away from the airport Sept. 8, are joining a population of female pilots that make up only 7 percent of pilots worldwide.
Women’s golf coach Therese Hession has coached for 29 years at Ohio State, and Sakuma and Bourdage are the first aviation majors she has had in her time with the Buckeyes.
Hession said that gender norms regarding becoming a pilot as a woman are beginning to change for future women in aviation like Sakuma and Bourdage.
“There could probably be a perception about a lady, female pilot,” Hession said. “I think those barriers are starting to come down a little bit as well, so it’s maybe not as unheard of as it’s been in the past.”
Bourdage has been a part of The Ninety Nines, an international female pilot organization, since she was 15 years old. Recognizing the minority that she is in while in the cockpit, Bourdage said she hopes to inspire by pursuing her aviation passion.
“My goal is to inspire others to pursue aviation, and if not pursue aviation, pursue their passions,” Bourdage said.
Bourdage said that she is still deciding whether she will continue her passion for golf or aviation into her professional life.
In the meantime, the freshman said she will compete in three golf tournaments during the fall to keep her competitive edge ahead of a potential Ohio State season in 2021.
Sakuma is finishing up her time with Ohio State and is set to graduate following the spring semester. She hopes to fly for a major airline down the road, but her short term focus is on finishing her golfing career on somewhat “normal” terms.
Sakuma and her Ohio State teammates missed out on a chance to defend their Big Ten title in the spring with the cancelation of the season due to COVID-19. The concerns surrounding COVID-19 forced the team to lose out on fall competitions as well.
Despite the adversity, Sakuma said that being flexible is a trait that she has learned both on the golf course and in the cockpit.
“One day you could be landing in a tailwind. One day you could be landing in a headwind or a crosswind, and that’s the same thing with golf too,” Sakuma said. “You have to always be able to adapt, because not one flight is the same and not one golf round is the same.”