High School Sports

Eastern Kentucky girl without a home golf course among favorites to win state title

Members of the Sheldon Clark girls’ golf team, which will compete in its third straight state tournament. From left: co-coach Ronnie Evans, Mallory Davis, Madison Haney, Laken Newome, Carley Fraley, Callie Mullins, Gabbie Blankenship and co-coach Debbie Evans.
Members of the Sheldon Clark girls’ golf team, which will compete in its third straight state tournament. From left: co-coach Ronnie Evans, Mallory Davis, Madison Haney, Laken Newome, Carley Fraley, Callie Mullins, Gabbie Blankenship and co-coach Debbie Evans. Photo provided

Laken “Boo” Newsome never picked up a golf club until she was in ninth grade. Four years later, the Sheldon Clark senior is among the favorites to win the girls’ Leachman/KHSAA State Golf Championship, which begins Tuesday at Bowling Green Country Club.

Newsome, whose 69 to win her first 10th Region golf tournament was the lowest score in any regional last week, will compete in her fourth straight state tournament. Entering it, she’s fifth in the All-State points standings.

Not bad for a girl whose nearest golf courses are about 30 miles away from Inez, the small Martin County town wherein Sheldon Clark lies.

Boo’s mother, Robin Newsome, insisted that if Boo were to quit basketball — as she did after eighth grade — she would have to play another sport to stay in shape and involved with varsity athletics. Eighteen holes weren’t necessarily what she had in mind.

“Golf is not my thing,” Robin said with a laugh. “I know nothing about the game. My sport was basketball.”

Robin, Sheldon Clark’s athletic director and a former basketball star who led the Cardinals to four straight girls’ Sweet Sixteen appearances from 1975-1978, took Boo to hit some balls and a new passion blossomed. Following her freshman season, she began regular lessons with Larry Ward at Keene Run Golf Course in Nicholasville.

Those trips, lasting as long as eight hours each time, are just “a normal event for them,” Ward said.

“Coming from one of the most depressed communities in Kentucky, nothing’s at their fingertips,” said Ward, a Paintsville native who’s been a full-time instructor in central Kentucky for about 10 years. “You don’t think of Sheldon Clark and golf.”

Boys’ golf state qualifiers Girls’ golf state qualifiers

Ronnie Evans, a retired science teacher and local pastor, was the golf coach at Sheldon Clark for eight years before leaving the job so he could watch his daughter, Cherish, play at Campbellsville University. He and his wife, Debbie, have been co-coaching since Boo came into the program.

Sometimes I come up to the house and I have one or two kids out in the driveway hitting balls in my yard. That’s our driving range.

Ronnie Evans, Sheldon Clark golf coach

Ronnie recalled Boo’s first freshman practice, when he would tag along with the boys’ team and Debbie would follow the girls’ team while they were practicing at Stonecrest Country Club in Prestonsburg. Afterward, Debbie told Ronnie that Boo couldn’t play with the girls anymore.

“She said, ‘You’re gonna have to take Boo with you, she can’t play,’” Ronnie said. “I said, ‘Well why do I have to take her with me if she can’t play?’ She said, ‘You don’t understand. She’s hitting the ball and having to wait too long to get her next shot.’”

It was Ronnie who recommended Ward as an instructor. He had trained Cherish, who competed in five straight state tournaments for the Cardinals before their golf program grew to the point where it could support a whole team.

In addition to Boo, Sheldon Clark has two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior on this year’s squad. The group won its second straight 10th Region Tournament last week at Paintsville Country Club and will be competing at state for the third straight season.

“It’s a big commitment for the kids to make,” Ronnie said. “We don’t even have a driving range. There’s no putting greens. If they want to play golf, we have to go to Paintsville or Stonecrest.”

What it does have is the Evans’ 70-yard front lawn, in which Ronnie sets up pins and Hula Hoops for the girls to aim at. He leaves pieces of carpet and a shag bag on the front porch for them to use when he’s away from home.

“Sometimes I come up to the house and I have one or two kids out in the driveway hitting balls in my yard,” Ronnie said with a laugh. “That’s our driving range.”

Ronnie believes the team without a home golf course — Martin County is one of just 15 counties in the state without one, according to an online registry — has played one of the toughest schedules in the state. Sheldon Clark opened the year with seven tournaments in the span of 10 days. Until its regional, the closest tournament to home was about two hours away in Morehead.

“For us to compete to be one of the better teams in the state, we’ve got to go and travel,” he said. “If we lived in Lexington, we could stay at home or make a 30-minute drive to play most of these tournaments. For us, an hour gets us nowhere. We’re still driving.”

The Cardinals’ trip to the state tournament ended in the first round each of the last two years. After finishing among the top third in most of their tournaments this season, the girls are optimistic about their chances to play on day two this season. Their anchor player has a shot at becoming the school’s first individual state golf champion and the first Eastern Kentucky girl to win a title since Johnson Central’s Amiee Cantrell did so in 1991.

Coming from one of the most depressed communities in Kentucky, nothing’s at their fingertips. You don’t think of Sheldon Clark and golf.

Larry Ward, golf instructor in central Kentucky

While she’s admittedly biased, Robin thinks Boo might be the best-kept secret in the state. She’s grateful for the opportunities her daughter and her teammates have gotten thanks to a game she barely understands.

“We’re not a Sacred Heart and we’re not a Scott County,” Robin said. “But what these kids have done considering they don’t have a golf course, I think it’s phenomenal.”

Boo’s game isn’t as polished as it needs to be for the level at which she’s competing, Ward said. Many of her competitors have been on golf courses since they were in diapers. Her tenaciousness has helped her overcome that skill discrepancy.

“The one thing she does have, that kids from (Eastern Kentucky) tend to have, is she’s a competitor,” Ward said. “She’ll fight ya. That’s her strength.”

Defending boys’ champ makes college choice

Defending boys’ state golf champion C.J. Jones will have one less distraction weighing on his mind when he tees off at the Bowling Green Country Club on Friday. The Franklin County senior recently committed to play his college golf at Ball State University in Indiana (David Letterman’s alma mater).

At last week’s 9th Region Tournament at Kearney Hill Golf Links, Jones said he was relieved to have the decision out of his way.

“It feels unreal, it feels like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “Now I can go out and play and not have to worry about impressing any college coaches, which is nice. I’m super excited about making another run at state and then moving on to college after this year.”

Jones’ mother Trish said that the family “just felt comfortable” with Ball State.

Jones finished tied for fifth place at Kearney Hill with a 1-over 73, six strokes behind tournament winner Zach Miller of Madison Central. The Indians won the team title with a score of 297 while Franklin County finished second at 302. Jones said he’s looking forward to a rematch at the state tournament.

“I’m happy that Madison Central is gonna be going to Bowling Green,” he said. “They got us (at the regional tournament) but now we’ll get the chance to chase them again at state.”

Etc.

▪  Madison Central’s girls broke Sacred Heart’s four-year run of state titles by defeating Elizabethtown by one stroke for their first team victory in program history. Three seniors graduated from that squad, but 7th Region medalist MacKenzie Neal, a sophomore, and freshman Mattie Neeley played in Bowling Green last year.

With another freshman, Reagan Clark, and two eighth-graders among the group that won the regional tournament this season, the Indians seem positioned to contend for the foreseeable future.

▪  St. Xavier won the last two boys’ team titles, including a state-record setting performance last year, but hasn’t had an individual medalist since 2011. The Tigers trotted out five seniors who all went on to play college golf last season; the edition that won this year’s 6th Region Tournament was comprised of three juniors, a senior and a freshman.

▪  In addition to the Madison Central and Franklin County boys’ squads who finished 1-2 at the 9th Region Tournament, Will Ginter (Henry Clay), Joe Muschong (Lafayette) and Mario Diaz (Scott County) will compete at state. Jeff Morr of Tates Creek was the last Lexingtonian to win the boys’ title, in 1996.

▪  Lexington hasn’t produced a girls’ team champion since 2001, when Paul Laurence Dunbar won the title. Henry Clay shot a 351 to qualify for state as runners-up to Madison Central in the 7th Region Tournament.

Henry Clay produced the last city golfer to take the girls’ individual title when Sharon Park won in 1994. Freshman Laney Frye (Lexington Christian) and junior Sarah Black (Paul Laurence Dunbar) will compete from Lexington this season.

Josh Moore: 859-231-1307, @HLpreps

Herald-Leader reporter Josh Sullivan contributed to this article.

State championships

At Bowling Green Country Club

Girls: Oct. 4-5

Boys: Oct. 7-8

First rounds begin at 7 a.m. CDT

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