Jillian Bourdage: Pars, Piloting and the Pandemic July 13, 2020 By Jillian Bourdage

Jillian Bourdage is soaring to new heights both in the cockpit and on the golf course. (Gary Curreri/

Jillian Bourdage, 18, of Tamarac, Fla., the runner-up in the 2019 U.S. Girls’ Junior and 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball (with partner Casey Weidenfeld), is set to enroll at The Ohio State University in August, where she plans to major in aviation studies and play on the women’s golf team. She also recently earned her private pilot’s certificate. 

Expect the unexpected. You must be prepared for anything. I like to remind myself of this precept quite often. Whether I am competing on the golf course, flying an airplane, or just enduring the everyday challenges of life, I strive to adapt and overcome any obstacle. Maybe it is my competitive or optimistic spirit, but I like to focus on the positives. It is times like these that really test your resilience and make you a stronger individual.

Although the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic can be quite frustrating and daunting, I believe it builds our character and prepares us for the ever-changing future in ways we cannot even imagine. In March, the severity of the pandemic began to emerge along with concern for how rapidly the virus could spread on the home front.

I was traveling with my parents to the Florida State Golf Association (FSGA) Women’s Amateur Four-Ball when we learned that it would be canceled. It was disappointing to turn back and head home mid-trip; we could not help but ponder what else would be affected by this. My best friend, Casey Weidenfeld, and I were looking forward to playing in this FSGA tournament as a prelude to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship in our home state (Quail Creek Country Club in Naples).

However, while working on schoolwork together the following week, we discovered that the USGA event would also be canceled for safety reasons. The news was upsetting, but in such unpredictable times, these precautionary measures needed to be taken to protect the health of the competitors, staff, Rules officials and volunteers. Just like that, my busy summer tournament schedule had dwindled to a couple of events.

I was most excited for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship that would have been taking place around this time. A year ago, I went head to head with so many phenomenal golfers and had the most amazing experience of my life. Though I lost in the championship match, I expected that I would have another opportunity in 2020. The USGA unfortunately came to the decision to call off this championship – and several others – due to concerns about the pandemic.

It would have been my last junior golf tournament, and I was really excited that it was being hosted at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Since I am passionate about aviation, I was hoping to catch a few Air Force jets flying over the course! Although my eyes are directed skyward, I am still grounded by the realities we have all faced amidst COVID-19.

South Florida was immediately an epicenter when the virus first emerged. Since I live in Broward County, the golf courses were closed for a few months, and I did not get to practice much as a result. Instead, I allocated more of my time toward studying and earning my private pilot’s certificate. I had worked very hard on my academics, and I was honored to be named valedictorian of my class. It was a busy semester, to say the least! Nonetheless, I think it is really important in any sport to give your body and mind time to recover.

This unscheduled break allowed me to focus on other pressing matters and helped build up my competitive spirit. I was quite excited to get a spot in the all-exempt U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, scheduled Aug. 3-9 at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, Md. It will be my last competitive event of the summer and a great opportunity for me to further work on my skills and prepare for collegiate golf at The Ohio State University. I am blessed to be attending my dream school this fall while pursuing a major in air transportation with a professional pilot specialization. 

Jillian Bourdage reached the finals of two USGA championships in 2019, including the U.S. Girls' Junior. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Although the fall semester will be quite different due to COVID-19 regulations, it will certainly be a special chapter in my life. Unfortunately, amidst the stay-at-home protocols, I did not have a normal conclusion to my senior year of high school. Events such as prom and graduation were canceled, and all of my courses were moved online for the remainder of the semester. Distance learning was an adjustment for many students across the nation and discouraging for students like myself who missed being in an academic atmosphere with others.

This was not an entirely new experience for me since I have taken a few online classes throughout my high school career. However, that didn’t make the experience any less burdensome. I am a person who enjoys visiting the library to complete assignments and work on projects. Being quarantined at home made it difficult to channel that motivation and diligence into schoolwork. It took me time to adjust and find my rhythm. I’m sure other students in the same situation could relate.

Perhaps some of the despondency is attributed to a lackluster senior year. In anticipation of prom, graduation and a whole summer full of possibilities, the harsh realities of COVID-19 made our efforts feel fruitless. All of these special moments were snatched away from the Class of 2020. We unfortunately do not get a mulligan.

Nonetheless, I strive to look at the positives. Reflecting on the past few months, I have noticed a correlation between the country’s current issues and the lessons I have learned from golf and aviation. In golf, players are always aware that anything can occur at any given time. It is in the most pressing of situations that bad shots seem to happen. In aviation, pilots are always preparing for unforeseen circumstances. Evolve and overcome: this theme is prevalent in life since we must constantly adapt and stay positive in order to work through the tough times.

Just as quickly as the wind changes – both on a golf course and while en route at 3,000 feet – we must be ready to assess the situation, learn from it, and become even stronger in the long run. The unexpected does not make this year any less empowering. One thing that this virus has instilled in all of us is a greater appreciation for our way of life and the ones we love. As we have learned, everything can change in the blink of an eye … and at the whim of a cough.

I have discovered so much about life in the past six months, having witnessed people’s health and livelihoods suffer due to COVID-19. It is very sad to watch everything unravel before your eyes, but I think it will make us ready for any future circumstance that arises. In times of difficulty, we can look toward the wisdom of those who came before us.

Martin Luther King embodied the belief that “the ultimate measure of a [person] is not where [they] stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [they] stand in times of challenge and controversy.”

I believe that many of us have manifested this essence in our own lives. Although the times are unpredictable, I am inspired by how we are uniting as a nation and global community to combat this. A wind of change is on the horizon, and I believe that good things are on the way. This too shall pass, so long as we keep our heads held high and our determination steadfast.