‘Up and Down’ the Iowa Golf Scene – Pettersen sets sights high
Bella Pettersen Overcomes Adversity on Her Way to the Summit of Girls Golf in Iowa
For North Liberty golfer extraordinaire Bella Pettersen (right), the challenges of playing at a high-level begin far before she reaches the golf course. The 2022 Iowa Golf Association Junior Girls Player of the Year is afflicted with a rare condition called juvenile enthesitis arthritis.
The disease, which first struck the 17-year-old in middle school, causes inflammation of joints which leads to pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of motion in the areas where tendons and ligaments connect to bone.
“The condition affects your walking, sitting and standing, and that’s before you try to swing a golf club,” said Pettersen, during a recent telephone interview with Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene.
“I’ve tried just about everything – from taking three baths a day, to every medication possible, cortisone shots, using a trainer, to even a chemotherapy drug used by cancer patients,” she said.
Pettersen is currently taking an infusion to provide some relief to the condition that impacts her ability to practice or even walk the golf course. Later this year, Pettersen is scheduled for a special surgical procedure on her hips that is being counted on to alleviate the chronic condition and allow full pursuit of future golf dreams.Physical ailments aside, Pettersen is focused this spring on setting new goals and achieving new heights to add to an already well decorated golf resume. Two years ago, Bella burst onto the Iowa girls prep golf scene when the Mike and Debbie Pettersen family relocated to North Liberty from Fountain Hills, AZ. As a freshman at Iowa City Liberty, she won nearly every event, earned Mississippi Valley Conference player of the year honors and qualified for the Class 4A state tournament at Otter Creek in Ankeny, where a pair of 71’s parlayed into a third-place finish in the medalist standings. Last spring, she was equally dominating, repeating as conference player of the year and shot a 36-hole score of 149 to again finish third in the state meet medalist race.
“I love winning,” said Pettersen, who was introduced to the game by her older sister, Madasyn and started playing golf at age three.
She played in her first tournament, the Girls Classic in Rockford, IL, before she reached the age of five. That tournament, a four-hole event, would be the launch of a junior golf career that has spanned three states and competition at the local, state, regional and national levels. The well-seasoned high school prep has competed and won titles sponsored by the Illinois Junior Golf Association, Junior Golf Association of Arizona, Iowa PGA Section and the Iowa Golf Association. But her biggest thrill to date came last summer at the American Junior Golf Association’s (AJGA) Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship played at Buffalo Ridge Golf Course in Hollister, MO. Pettersen fired a 72 to win the qualifier and gain entry into the tournament, where rounds of 76-75-70 gave her a 54-hole of 221 and earned a fourth-place finish on a national stage.
“It was a great thrill to play so well in such a big event,” said Pettersen, who noted that her arthritis was kept in check to play four straight days of competition on a challenging course.
That tournament capped off a remarkable 2022 season for Pettersen, whose standout performance earned her the Iowa Golf Association’s Girls’ Player of the Year honors. Bella captured the Iowa Junior Girls’ Amateur championship in runaway fashion with an 11-stroke victory by shooting a 54-hole total of 223 at Finkbine Golf Course in Iowa City. She teamed up with Addison Berg of Swisher to capture the IGA’s Four-Ball title in dominating fashion at Veenker in Ames. Pettersen also finished third in the Iowa Girls’ Junior PGA tournament and seventh in the Iowa Women’s Amateur.
“I’m competitive by nature,” said Bella, who combines hard work, grit, determination and desire as attributes to fuel her performance on the course and as she battles her condition. “I’m driven to succeed but have to balance my health with my golf. I can’t beat balls on the range like other players but that’s allowed me to put tons of work on my short game. “
Bella also draws inspiration from her older sister, Madasyn, whose promising golf career was cut short by a similar arthritis condition. Madasyn was a junior girls’ golf prodigy in Illinois, becoming the youngest player to win the Illinois Women’s Open in 2015 at age 15. She also became the youngest player to qualify for that tournament at age 10, holds the record for most Illinois Junior Golf Association championships with 15 and at one time was ranked 50th worldwide as a junior player. As her condition worsened, Madasyn’s Division I golf career was curtailed. Today, she is a process engineer for the Iowa City-based pulp and paper manufacturer Loparex.
Looking ahead to the 2023 season, Bella has higher aspirations.
“I exceeded all of my goals in 2022 and will be setting them higher this year,” she said.
Looking down the road further, Bella would like to play Division I golf and a dream goal would be playing professionally. For now, she’s enjoying high school, taking college-level courses at Kirkwood Community College, working part-time at Plato’s Closet in Coralville and plans for a career as an anesthesiologist. She also offers the following advice for those who are battling disabilities and other conditions.
“You have to learn that it’s ok not to be ok,” she said. “Find something you love, work hard and stay with it. You can still do amazing things.”
“Up and Down” the Iowa Golf Scene
A regular feature column written by IGA Foundation board member Mark Gambaiana, Up and Down the Iowa Golf Scene is designed to take the reader beyond the headlines and scoreboards to share stories of those who help make Iowa golf so rich and rewarding. Profiles will spotlight those who advance the game through volunteerism, service, extraordinary achievement, competition, human interest and the many other dimensions of golf in Iowa.
Click the links below to read previous Up and Down features
– IGA Rules Official Sean Flanders
– R&A, USGA Champion Gene Elliott
– Nervig Reflects on Decades of Service to The Iowa Masters
– Arseneault Finds Fulfillment in Life’s Next Chapter After Competitive Golf
– Ivan Miller remembers the days of the Minnows
– Kinney adjusts to life on tour
– Standard Golf’s roots run deep