PERHAM, Minn. — For Marcus and Mallory Belka, everything is a competition.
After school shifted to distance learning and spring sports were canceled in the early days of the pandemic, Mallory and Marcus kept themselves occupied on the greens. If Marcus went out to the golf course, Mallory was right behind.
“Because we’re always so competitive, I was like, ‘I don't want him to get better than me,’ ” Mallory said. “So we would always go out there and compete against each other, which really helped.”
The twins are competitive in everything they do. Neither one wants to fall behind the other.
That competitive nature has made them the golfers they are today. Mallory and Marcus both qualified for the Minnesota Class 2A boys and girls state golf tournaments, which are June 15-16 at the Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.
Mallory and Marcus, juniors at Perham, shot identical two-day scores of 149 at last week’s Class 2A, Section 8 tournaments to earn spots in the state meet.
“It was kind of funny, but weird at the same time,” Marcus said of the scores. “She beat me the first day, but I ended up beating her the second day, and they ended up to be the same.”
Mallory won the Section 8AA individual girls golf championship June 7-8 in Bemidji. She shot a 74 in the first round and a 75 in the second round to clinch her first-ever section crown by 11 strokes.
“It felt really good, because I’ve been practicing every day, putting in lots and lots of hours,” Mallory said. “So to be the section champ was a really big accomplishment for me.”
Marcus followed his opening-round 77 with a 72 to tie for third place on the boys side. While Mallory will be making her third consecutive state appearance, it’ll be Marcus’ first.
“It felt really good. It was kind of like a sigh of relief that I finally did it,” Marcus said. “Now I just gotta go down to state and hopefully play good.”
Mallory still had about nine holes left when Marcus finished last week, so he was able to catch the end of his sister's rounds. He was at the section tournament as an individual and teed off before the girls did.
“They’re competitive, but it’s in a really good way,” said Cory Solberg, longtime Perham head girls golf coach. “They want to shoot good scores because the other one is shooting good scores, but yet they’re still really happy with how the other sibling did.”
Mallory competed in the Minnesota State Junior Girls’ Golf Championship in Eden Prairie last summer. She finished the event in the championship flight and earned a top-30 finish overall (83-87-170).
Growing up, the Belkas lived a block away from the golf course in Perham. For years, they rode their bikes to the course every single day.
“Me and Mal are both really competitive, so playing against each other and just trying to get better and beat each other kept us playing every day,” Marcus said.
Having a built-in practice partner — and opponent — in their twin, Mallory and Marcus constantly push each other, and their talents, to the max.
“For siblings, they really get along well. They’re both really funny,” said Solberg, whose son is also a junior at Perham.
It may have been the sibling rivalry, and Marcus’ short-game ability, that has helped elevate Mallory’s game to the next level.
“Mal gets off the tee a lot better than me. She hits her driver really well,” Marcus said. “But I think around the greens my short game is a little bit better."
Unsurprisingly, her short game has improved immensely over the past couple years, Solberg said.
Mallory fired a 154 to place third at the section tournament as a freshman in 2019. She placed 16th at the state tournament that year.
“I think my game has developed quite a bit since,” Mallory said. “I’ve put in tons of hours every year trying to improve my game to get better.”
No stranger to the state tournament stage, this year’s meet feels a little different for Mallory. In both earlier appearances, she made the three-plus hour drive to Jordan with a teammate. Now, she’ll be making the trip with her brother.
“They’re a couple of great kids. I’m super excited for them, and well-deserved that they’ve both made it to the state tournament now,” Solberg said. “With Mallory being there a couple times already, it was just a matter of time before Marcus was gonna be there, too.”
Marcus isn’t looking for a certain score as he prepares to make his state-tournament debut.
“I’m just trying to focus on one hole at a time and not get ahead of myself,” Marcus said. “Try to put together two good rounds and see what happens.”
It’s the same mindset for Mallory.
“There’s a lot of nerves going into it,” Mallory said. “I've been there a couple times, so I know the course pretty well. But it’s still gonna be a tough competition, and it's gonna be some hot weather out there.”