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Just 14 years old, Rebecca Black has become the darling of the 86th annual Women’s Kentucky State Amateur Golf Championship.
Especially after what she overcame Tuesday at Elizabethtown Country Club.
Two down with two holes to play in her opening round of match play against DePauw University junior Paige Gooch, Black completed an improbable comeback. She parred the 17th and 18th holes to tie the match and force a playoff before sinking another par putt on the 335-yard, par-4 first hole to knock out Gooch, who helped lead the Tigers to an NCAA Division-III national championship runner-up finish in May.
That’s how you make a debut. This was Black’s moment, even if she still couldn’t fathom she’d actually won despite double- and triple-checking the scores.
“I didn’t really expect to win those last holes,” said Black, who is in the upper bracket. “It’s just a long shot. I wasn’t playing my best. I had a few bad shots, but other than that I was playing good.”
Black was the main surprise after the first day of match play.
Heading into the weekend, she hadn’t touched a golf club in two weeks. She’d gone to Kansas with her club soccer team, played in a soccer team camp at Western Kentucky University and lived the life of a teenager on summer break.
But she keeps going. Black played Saturday in ECC’s Lady Bug Invitational, firing an 86 and finishing three shots out of first in the first flight. On Monday, she qualified for the championship flight with a below-handicap 79 and Tuesday, she recorded the incredible rally.
“I was just trying to play. If I didn’t win, that’s OK,” Black said. “I’m not sure I’ll make it out of the next round, but I’ll try.”
Today, Black goes up against the tournament’s top veteran competitor in 67-year-old Anne Combs, The five-time State Am champion defeated Jennifer Brenzel, a 1989 letter-winner at the University of Kentucky, in a one-hole playoff as well.
Combs acknowledged she played steady. She can’t hit the ball as far as her younger competitors so that’s why putting is so important for her.
“The greens are getting very quick because of the wind. They’re quick anyway but they’re drying out,” Combs said. “These greens are terribly tricky to putt – because they’re drying out and getting very quick and they have very subtle undulations, very subtle. They’re just perfect though.”
In the other top upper bracket quarterfinal, top-seeded and defending champion April Emerson will meet Elizabethtown’s Kim Hartlage.
An Eastern Kentucky University senior, Emerson defeated her future Colonel teammate Becky Sharpe, 2 and 1. Emerson was 2-down through nine holes. She stuck her second shot on the par-5, 420-yard 10th hole to 5 feet and had a chance for eagle, but missed the putt and settled for birdie.
She struggled with putting. But it was even tougher going up against a friend.
“She’s an awesome player and is going to be a huge asset to our team next year,” said Emerson, who was just as excited about heading to Cheddar’s for dinner with Sharpe as she was with her victory. “We were excited that we got to be with each other today, but we both said ‘either way EKU is going on.’”
The 10th hole was instrumental in Hartlage’s success, too. Spurred by a 15-foot birdie there that put her 2-up, Hartlage defeated Frankfort’s Abbi Stamper 5 and 4. Some words of wisdom from a longtime family friend made a major difference on the back nine.
“The back nine I played really steady. My caddie, Tom Brumfield, told me ‘just speed, don’t worry about trying to make birdies. Just get your speed on the greens,’” said Hartlage, who also won holes 13 and 14. “So I started focusing on that and it really made a big difference. I hit every green, just two-putted the rest of the way around.”
Elizabethtown resident Beverly Games defeated Louisville’s Susan Stewart, 2 and 1. Games will face Western Kentucky University sophomore April Butler, who defeated University of the Cumberlands sophomore Shannon Bishop, 3 and 2.
Games, a two-time State Am runner-up, said the wind was a huge factor, forcing her to think about club selection much more.
Tied after 12 holes, Games parred the 185-yard, par-3 13th and 320-yard, par-4 14th to go 2-up before a bogey at the 317-yard, par-4 15th dropped her lead to one. But she responded with a birdie on the 140-yard, par-3 16th hole and strong second shot at the 310-yard, par-4 17th that left her about 8 feet left of the hole before recording a par to win.
“Our games are a lot alike,” Games said. “Neither of us really ever hit it very far offline. She has a great short game.”
Converse College freshman Alex Bruce will meet Russell County High School junior Brianne Coe in the final upper bracket quarterfinal today.
Bruce defeated Cumberlands senior Laura Beth Harris, 3 and 2, while Coe knocked off Murray State sophomore Morgan Bucher, 5 and 3.
After having her drives go right Monday, Bruce returned to the range later that evening for some extra practice. She remembered what her swing coach, Ralph Landrum from World of Golf in Florence, told her before she left.
“I just remembered get my full turn through and got my shoulders over and make it go straight,” Bruce said.
Coe, meanwhile, had a good day on the greens. She had a couple of birdies and followed her plan to make pars or better.
“I was striking the ball well and leaving my putts where they were in range to win the hole,” Coe said. “They (the greens) were amazing. They were very fast and I love them cause they are very true to what you read and you can make a lot of the putts.”
John Grothcan be reached at (270) 505-1754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.