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Coaches and players always talk about building a family atmosphere. For the Elizabethtown golf teams, that’s certainly the case because the teams are interwoven with family.
The girls’ team is coached by Kim Hartlage and daughters, Ashley and Lauren, play for their mother. Ian Black and Heath Hinton are members of the boys’ team. Ian’s sister, Rebecca, and Heath’s cousin, Sarah, play for the girls’ team.
“Golf is a family sport,” Ashley said. “My mom always played and Lauren and I started playing it. My dad (Dennis) plays golf, too. We live by the Blacks. Ian, Rebecca, Lauren and I will go out and play games together. Golf’s a family affair for us.”
When the Lady Panthers won the Girls’ 3rd Region Tournament last Monday and the Panthers followed it up the next day by winning the Boys’ 5th Region Tournament, it made it even more exceptional to the families involved.
“It really is family orientated between the two teams,” Heath said. “There’s a sense of family. There’s a lot of closeness. There are cousins and brothers and sisters. Everyone treats everyone like family. For both of us to win region, it makes it really special.”
Ian knows the pressure that comes from playing in a state tournament. He made two appearances, going as a freshman and sophomore before not qualifying last season.
Rebecca has played in some big events, such as the Women’s State Am at Elizabethtown Country Club this summer. She qualified for the championship flight and even had success. But this will be Rebecca’s first State trip.
“She says she doesn’t feel pressure,” Ian said. “If I was going to give her advice, I’d tell her to keep calm. And don’t think too much because that only makes it worse.”
Ian’s senior season has been one to remember. After playing as the team’s No. 1 last year, Ian has been more confident in that role this season.
“I’ve played well,” he said. “I’ve matured as a player. Last year I was thrown into the No. 1 spot. That was a lot different. Being a senior and more of a leader, I’ve found my comfort level.”
Ian spent the offseason working on his game. He has always been solid off the tee, but it’s the other parts on his game he needed to improve upon.
“I’ve worked really hard,” Ian said. “I’ve worked on my wedge shots and my short game. I’ve always been a solid ball striker. But my short game has gotten better this year.”
Rebecca’s freshman season has been a hectic one. Besides helping the golf team to the state tournament, Rebecca is a starter on the girls’ soccer team, which is coached by her father, Pat.
“It’s been hard,” Rebecca said. “I’m glad I’ve done both, but it’s hard. After soccer practice, I’d come to the golf course every day. That’s helped me the most.”
Rebecca sprained her right ankle and has been going to physical therapy. She played in the region tournament with her ankle heavily taped, but she still managed to fire an 84. Despite the injury, training for soccer has had its advantages on the golf course.
“I’ve added length to all my clubs,” Rebecca said. “I think that has a lot to do with soccer. I’ve gotten in better shape. My chipping has gotten better and I’ve gotten a new putter, so that’s been a lot better.”
Kim is mother at home and coach on the course. Playing for their mother can be difficult at times, but Ashley and Lauren said this year has been extraordinary. The Lady Panthers are going to the state tournament for the second time during Kim’s coaching tenure.
“It’s been so fun having my mom as my coach and being able to play with my sister,” Lauren said. “On the course, she’s our coach. She has to be there for all the players. But when Ashley or I need something, she acts like mom. It’s great to be able to experience that with them.”
What’s been rewarding to Kim is this is something she’s patiently waited for the last four years. She realized the Lady Panthers were going to have some lean years after qualifying for State in 2008, but this season has made that worth everything.
“As a parent to watch your children excel and achieve their goals is so special,” Kim said. “I know how hard they’ve worked. At the beginning of the year, I really had no idea of what to expect. The team really has come together. As a parent, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Ashley said what she has treasured over the years is the extra time she’s been able to spend with her mother. Adding Lauren to the mix this year has made it more memorable.
“It’s fun because we’ve been together so much,” Ashley said. “Lauren and I are both competitive. Even though she wins all the time, it’s fun and it makes me a lot better. My mom is always there and she knows what I need to work on. It’s given us a lot more one-on-one time.”
Ashley’s heart was broken last season. She missed qualifying for the state tournament by two strokes. But she spent the offseason working on her game and it’s paid off this year.
“Consistency,” Ashley said. “I was so inconsistent before. I would hit an awesome shot and then I’d hit a bad shot. Now, I feel like most of my shots are good and pure. My putting is much better. I three-putted so much. My short game is better. My whole game is more consistent. I have more confidence.”
Lauren is in her first season with the Lady Panthers after coming over from St. James. She had a strong summer where she qualified for the Women’s State Am championship flight and reached the semifinals. That has carried over to the high school season where she has earned All-State points, including a second-place finish at the region tournament.
“That prepared for me for this,” Lauren said. “There were a lot of people watching. I wasn’t used to that. It prepared me for a lot of different situations. That helped me get ready for this. It’s been a lot of fun in every tournament.”
Heath and Sarah are used to living in the shadows. Heath’s cousins — Grant, Garrett and Clay — enjoyed successful careers at Elizabethtown. Garrett and Clay were members of the 2009 which finished fourth at State.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Heath said. “I grew up playing with them and I’ve been able to step out of their shadows. It’s really exciting to make my own footsteps.”
Sarah grew up watching her older brothers, Grant and Clay, play in the state tournament. Although she doesn’t remember those trips that much, Sarah is looking forward to making her own mark.
“I was pretty young, so I don’t remember going to those that much,” Sarah said. “I’m glad I’m able to do the same thing. It’s been kind of hard because I have really big shoes to fill. I just want to play my best.”
Sarah has continued to show remarkable improvements since last season. This year her region score was 14 shots better than her score as a sixth-grader. Sarah said she has enjoyed this season more.
“It’s been really fun,” Sarah said. “Obviously, I’ve played better. That helps a lot. Probably length is the biggest difference. I’m getting stronger and older. Last year I could barely hit the ball. My shots are going farther.”
Like Sarah, Heath spent time during the offseason honing his craft. Although he has had his struggles at times, Heath feels like his game is coming together at the right time.
“I’ve played to my full potential,” Heath said. “I’ve worked really hard. I was playing pretty good at the beginning of the year and hopefully I can get back to that. I feel like I’m getting better.”
Going to State
Elizabethtown’s boys’ and girls’ teams qualified for this week’s state tournaments at Bowling Green Country Club. The Lady Panthers begin today for the two-day event, while the Panthers play Friday-Saturday in the tournament.
There will be plenty of support from family this week, but that’s nothing new for the players. This has become their extended family.
“It makes it really fun,” Sarah said. “It’s always good to get that kind of support. It gives you a lot of confidence and you can be yourself. Knowing you’re around family and you can trust them helps so much.”
The family atmosphere might explain why the teams have enjoyed so much success this season. They are hoping it bring them a little more this week.
“It brings a better comfort level being around family,” Ian said. “When you’ve been around people so long, it helps you relax. You’re at ease. It helps relax you in pressure moments because your family is with you. I think it helps both teams and we want to see the other succeed. It’s one big family.”
One big successful family.
Chuck Jones can be reached at (270) 505-1759 or email@example.com.