In what could become the premier high school golf event leading up to each year’s regionals and state tournament, the Kentucky Golf Coaches Association held the first All-State Championship this weekend at the University Club of Kentucky.
Madison Central’s Mattie Neeley and Trinity’s John Marshall Butler claimed the individual titles and Lexington Christian’s girls and Trinity’s boys took home first place in the team competition.
The All-State tournament pitted the top 15 boys’ and girls’ teams, regardless of geography, and the top 21 individual players in each division outside of those teams as determined by the KGCA’s All-State points, which are earned all season long at high school invitationals by individuals and teams. That’s the same points system used to determine the KGCA’s All-State teams and Mr. and Miss Kentucky Golf.
“We won’t ever have KHSAA attached to it as the state tournament, but I think it is a different championship. It is the All-State Championship,” KGCA president and Henry Clay girls’ coach Kevin Mims said. “It’s always going to be the best of the best playing the best. And that’s what we’re about. We want to be unapologetic about providing something where the best teams and the best players can go head to head.”
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association controversially altered this year’s state tournament format by eliminating regional runners-up from the competition to theoretically fix some pace-of-play issues that have plagued the event in recent years. The fix came after an initial proposal by the KHSAA to eliminate each team’s fifth golfer from the state tournament, an idea also met with derision from some of Kentucky’s top pro golfers and others within the state.
“I’m so glad that this event was even created just to basically show, ‘Hey, the (new KHSAA) rule is ridiculous,’” said Neeley, who won the girls’ title with a par on the second playoff hole after finishing at even par in a four-way tie. LCA’s Laney Frye, Great Crossing’s Rylea Marcum and South Warren’s Faith Martin also made the playoff. “It (the KHSAA state tournament) needs to be the same as it was.”
The All-State event featured teams from 10 of the 12 golf regions in boys and eight of the 12 regions in girls. The boys’ side had at least one individual competing from all 12 regions and the girls would have, too, except for a scheduling conflict by that invitee.
The KHSAA state boys’ and girls’ tournaments, scheduled next month in Bowling Green, will only take one region team winner and seven top individual competitors from each region outside that team after regionals are completed next week. That leaves behind a lot of the top teams in the state since there can only be one representative from each region.
“It has created so much excitement,” Mims said of the new event. “There’s a lot of these teams that will not be at the state tournament, so this, basically, is their state tournament, because they’re playing the best.”
The All-State event had six girls’ teams out of the 9th Region alone, and they finished Sunday in places 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 and tied for 12th.
“The team concept is what’s going to grow golf. You watch the Solheim Cup, the Ryder Cup, and college golf is getting real popular — it’s on television now. And that’s what gets these girls to come out. It’s the team,” said LCA girls’ coach William Frye, whose team won last year’s KHSAA state championship after finishing runner-up in its regional, an impossibility this year. “For the chance to have the 15 best teams in the state here is just a great opportunity. It’s something we’re not going to have at the KHSAA because, unfortunately, they’re messing that tournament up, so thank goodness we have this one.”
On the boys’ side, four regions were represented by two teams, including first-place Trinity and second-place St. Xavier, both from the 6th Region.
“I’m really happy and thankful that there is something like this now, because it truly does bring the best teams in the state, and it’s the best caliber tournament of the year, hands down,” Trinity Coach James Chaney said. Trinity beat St. X by one stroke.
Butler, the boys’ winner, takes the new KHSAA rule in stride and believes the All-State event gives his team a ton of momentum heading into next week’s regional.
“To be honest, we don’t really think about (the format),” said Butler, who carded 10 birdies on the final day to finish 13-under for the event, four strokes ahead of St. Xavier’s Drew Doyle. “Whenever we go out on the course, we’re going to try to beat whoever we play.”
Mims said he has received nothing but positive feedback from All-State attendees and has gotten a commitment from the University Club to host it “as long as we have it.”
“What they’ve done is just take this sport to another level,” said KGCA Hall of Fame honoree Marty Donlon, who coached St. Xavier from 1963 to 2008. “I don’t like the rule (the KHSAA) changed. I don’t like the fact that the regional runner-ups don’t get to go to anymore, because I remember several different years where the regional runner up won the state.”
The KHSAA’s state tournament will always be the state tournament, Mims said, whether he and the KGCA agrees with the format or not.
“We’re here to work within the restraints of the high school athletic association. I don’t want to change them. I said my piece. I think they’re wrong because they are limiting competition,” Mims said. “From what they are saying, they are not about the competition, they are about equal representation across the state. Since that is their main goal. They are accomplishing that.
“I don’t want to fall into that because, if you look at what we’re representing (with the All-State event), we’re representing everybody in the state too, except we’ve got the best of the best.”
Hall of fame
The KGCA also inducted five coaches into its new hall of fame. They were Andy Oder (Bullitt East), Leslie Bender (Sacred Heart), Mike Harris (Glasgow), Marcus Camacho (Grant County) and Marty Donlon (St. Xavier).
The All-State Championship was dedicated to the memory of Vincent Hamilton, a longtime contributor to high school golf. Golf House Kentucky, the umbrella organization which manages the Kentucky Golf Association, Kentucky PGA and the Kentucky Golf Foundation, ran logistics for the event.