Osakis' Alayna Eldred was 2 years old when she first started coming to the Osakis Golf Course with her dad, Jon, and grandpa, Ron.
They were her first coaches. She would ride in the golf cart. Tap a few balls around on the green. It's a setting that would become a home away from home for Eldred.
"It's crazy it's been that many years already," Eldred, now a senior in high school, said. "I just have the best memories on the golf course with my dad and grandpa. Just growing up and evolving with my game. It's the best memories of my childhood. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
It was the start of what would become a high school career where Eldred cemented herself as one of the top prep golfers in Minnesota. In future years, she will try to put herself among some of the best in the college game after she signed to play for the Gophers in the Big Ten at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday. Friends and family gathered with Eldred in the clubhouse at the Osakis Golf Club as she made it official during the first day of the national signing period for athletes to ink to their respective schools.
"I can't even put it into words," Eldred said. "It's my dream come true. I realize I still have a lot of work ahead yet, but I'm going to enjoy this moment today and enjoy the next four years."
It came down to three schools for Eldred. The University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University were options, but it was going to be almost impossible for her to turn down an opportunity to play in a power-five conference like the Big Ten. The Gophers coaches, led by head coach Michele Redman, were the ultimate deciding factor when it came to her decision.
"To me, the coaches seemed like they could be the best in the country," Eldred said. "I just felt comfortable with them, and I know the head coach there, Michele Redman, is going to help take me to where I want to be. That was just a huge factor for me."
Eldred has progressed over the years from a seventh grader who finished tied for 25th at the Class AA meet in her first state tournament appearance in 2013 to finishing third at state over the last two seasons. Osakis head coach Shelly Engfer-Triebenbach says that isn't by accident.
"She works like none other," Engfer-Triebenbach said. "She's out there before our practice, after our practice, weekends. Her work ethic is what stands out the most. She's very special. Kind of a player that I don't think you get too often."
Eldred knows there are areas of her game she has to keep improving to make a big impact with the Gophers. She's confident, though, that things are moving in the right direction.
"I'm becoming a lot more consistent with everything," Eldred said. "I think the main thing for me is staying consistent with my irons. That's been something that has come and gone throughout the season, and my driver is also a big thing. Short game is something I can always kind of rely on. There's just a few things I need to sharpen up to be ready for next fall."
First things first, she has some unfinished business to take care of in her senior year of high school. Eldred has been shooting for a Class AA individual state title for the last few years only to see things fall a little short. Getting that championship before she leaves the Silverstreaks program is her primary focus as she looks ahead to this spring.
"It's huge," Eldred said. "That's my goal, and I feel like I've been knocking on the door the last two years and this could be my year. I'm going to work as hard as I can to make that happen."