At times, the pain can seem overwhelming.
But with only a month left in her college career, Jackie Hilea has one last run to the NCAA tournament left in her.
The Furman (S.C.) senior has been named to the all-Southern Conference team every year she’s golfed for the Paladins, who have been to the postseason 19 straight times.
However, back pain, which began to hamper her play last February, has made the final year and a half of her career anything but easy.
Hilea, who graduated from Moanalua in 2006, stayed in South Carolina to have back surgery last summer, which kept her out for most of the fall season.
She played in one tournament in the fall, the one hosted by Furman, and is gutting out the spring season despite pain that continues to plague her.
"I just got a cortisone shot a couple of weeks ago so I’m just trying to hold it together until the season is over," Hilea said. "My doctors have told me that the next step if I wanted surgery again would be a fuse or just to put rods in it, and if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to play at all."
Hilea was big into gymnastics growing up in Hawaii before eventually taking up golf at Moanalua, where she won an OIA championship and placed ninth in the state tournament.
Still relatively new to the game, instead of taking scholarship opportunities to colleges where she might not play, Hilea decided to spend a year at the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C.
"That’s kind of where I gained more of a confidence to win, because I won three of the IJGA tournaments I played in and that helped with my momentum going into college," Hilea said.
She eventually made contact with the coach at Furman, resulting in Hilea enrolling at the small school in South Carolina.
It was somewhat challenging at first, but Hilea has grown to enjoy her surroundings there.
"At first I felt landlocked and felt like I couldn’t stand this, but after a while, I got used to it because my teammates were so nice to be around," Hilea said. "The school is so small that it’s hard not to know everybody, which is something I like."
Hilea has maintained a stoke average between 76.1 and 77.2 since her freshman season. She had four top-20 finishes in 2008, three top-15 marks as a sophomore and posted two top-10 finishes as a junior last year.
Her most memorable tournament came as a junior at the Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C., when she made her first hole-in-one.
"I’d say that’s my favorite course because that’s where I got my first hole-and-one," she said. "I’ve been fortunate here to be able to play a lot of great tournaments and a lot of great courses."
The Paladins will compete in the Southern Conference Championship on April 17-19 as they try to qualify for their 20th straight NCAA tournament appearance.