Madison Central’s MacKenzie Neal was a model of consistency at the 7th Region girls golf tournament at Juniper Hills Golf Course in Frankfort on Monday.
After shooting two over par on the rain-soaked front nine, the sophomore was even on the backstretch with seven pars, a bogey and a birdie to finish with a 2-over 74 and take home the girls’ individual title, finishing three strokes ahead of Lexington Christian freshman Laney Frye.
Neal’s victory helped lead Madison Central to its second straight 7th Region team championship. The Indians, who shot 347 as a team, will look to defend their 2015 state championship at next week’s tournament in Bowling Green. They’ll be joined by 7th Region runner-up Henry Clay, which finished with a team score of 351. The top two teams and top four individuals who don’t play for those teams qualify for the tournament.
Though she carried a three-shot lead over group-mate Frye heading to No. 18, Neal’s par streak looked to be in jeopardy after her second shot went long and landed past the green, leaving her with a difficult birdie chip off a downhill slope. But her chip shot rolled within a few inches of the cup and she strolled confidently onto the green amid cheers from the crowd, which had gathered to watch the final group finish, and tapped in for the title.
“She played great on the back nine and managed to stay focused during the rain and didn’t crumble,” said Madison Central head coach Mike Neal, who is MacKenzie’s father. “It’s always tough as the dad. You have to separate the dad from the coach, and I had to be the coach today.”
MacKenzie Neal said once the rain subsided, she hit her stride.
“After the rain quit I saw myself hit a few good shots and the confidence started growing from there, then I rolled in a few putts, which is always a really big trigger for me confidence-wise … After the 14th hole I knew that if I stayed consistent that I was probably in really good shape.”
After thriving in heavy rain on the front nine, landing four pars in a row at one point, Frye struggled in the middle of the back nine with bogeys on holes No. 13, 14 and 15. But she rallied for pars on the final three holes to take runner-up honors and qualify for the state tournament a year after missing the cut by one stroke.
“I was really proud of her. She’s a good girl with a great attitude and she’s worked hard all year,” said Laney’s father and head coach B Frye. “To see it all culminate here today and all her hard work payoff is great … She was driving the ball a mile today and I love her attitude in the rain. She looks at it like, ‘If I can keep a good attitude in the rain that’s an automatic advantage over the field,’ and I love that about her.”
Henry Clay head coach Kevin Mims was impressed by the way the Blue Devils, led by fifth-place Lauren Fedele, braved the elements and remained consistent to earn their first trip to the state tournament in three years, finished 14 strokes ahead of Lexington Christian.
“All we’ve been working on the last three or four weeks is the short game and the confidence between their ears, and today it came together,” he said. “When Lauren (Fedele) made the turn with a 40 I thought, ‘Hey, we could do this.’ I told them they could do it and they needed to believe in themselves.”
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sarah Black earned the third individual spot at state with a score of 80. Western Hills’ Allison Harrod earned the final individual invitation after beating Boyle County’s Samantha Stewart in a sudden death playoff.
Teams (top 2 qualify for state tournament)
Madison Central 347 (Neal 74, Neeley 85, Ingram 93, Clark 95). 2. Henry Clay 351 (K. Gibbs 91, Fedele 83, D. Gibbs 81, Morris 89). 3. Lexington Christian 365 (Frye 77, Harper 92, Sparks 95, Newman 101). 4. Western Hills 376 (Harrod 85, Hill 92, Thomas 98, McGaughey 101).
Individuals (q-qualified for state)
MacKenzie Neal, Madison Central 74.; q-Laney Frye, Lex. Christian 77; q-Bekah Upchurch, Mercer Co. 79; q-Sarah Black, Dunbar 80; Lauren Fedele, Henry Clay 83; q-Allison Harrod, Western Hills 85; Samantha Stewart, Boyle Co. 85; Mattie Neeley, Madison Central 85; Cheyene Searcy, Anderson Co. 88; Delia Gibbs, Henry Clay 88; Bailey Morris, Henry Clay 89; Maddie Cecil, Dunbar 89; Madeline Vonlinger, Boyle Co. 90; Kathleen Gibbs, Henry Clay 91; Sarah Harper, Lex. Christian 92; Emilie Hill, Western Hills 92; Caroline O’Neill, Lafayette 93; Larkyn Ingram, Madison Central 93; Taylor Brennan, Bryan Station 94; Abby Harrel, Model 94; Emily Sparks, Lex. Christian 95; Reagan Clark, Madison Central 95.