Ben Turner relishes pressure.
The Henry Clay senior said as much vocally and with his play at Kearney Hills Golf Links on Monday. He won the 9th Region Tournament with a 4-under 68, besting Franklin County's Jacob Cook by three strokes.
Pressure presented itself in the form of a field that contained six of the state's other top 50 golfers (Turner is tied for 34 in the All-State rankings) and one of its best teams in Franklin County.
Even more came calling when Henry Clay Coach Wes Jackson told Turner — a former baseball pitcher and shortstop who didn't golf competitively until his sophomore year — he needed a strong finish to put the Blue Devils in contention for a state tournament bid.
"Some people think pressure's a bad thing," Turner said. "But put pressure on me and I feel better. I start playing better than I usually do so that was a good thing for him to tell me."
Turner had a long birdie putt on No. 18 to finish with a 31 over the final nine holes.
"I didn't hit a good chip shot but I told my coach it'd be cooler to make a 20-footer than a 2-footer so that was good," he said, laughing, of that final shot.
Henry Clay finished with a 303 as a team and with a state tournament berth just out of reach. Franklin County claimed the 9th Region team title with a 296 while Lexington Christian posted a 299 to earn the runner-up berth.
"It's tough," Jackson said. "That's three years in a row (that Henry Clay finished third). But that's our lowest score in the three years I've been coaching the team. We lost the first year in a playoff with a 308. This one stings a little bit more."
Jackson said he was "extremely proud" of his team's effort. "Ben took 'em on his back and he carried 'em in," he said, noting Turner's work ethic was second to none.
Franklin County won its second straight 9th Region title, making the most of a rich talent pool that Coach Kevin Hall said put work in the entire offseason for this moment.
Before that, it hadn't won a title since 2000.
Hall said the Flyers had less room for error this time around since they entered as the reigning champs, and Lexington Christian was right on their tail most of the round.
"We felt like we were the team to beat coming out, and I think everybody knew that, but that's just on paper," Hall said. "And paper don't get anything done."
The Flyers had no player shoot worse than a 76, a collective output Hall wagered no team other than St. Xavier could come close to.
Cook, a University of Kentucky commitment who won the tournament as a junior last season, shot a 1-under-71. He said it's hard to complain about that score even though it didn't win the day.
"I'm really glad we were able to shoot the score we did (as a team)," Cook said. "The scores were really low today."
LCA Coach Eric J. Geldhof said his team has hit its stride in the last couple of weeks, beginning with its two-stroke win in the All "A" Tournament in Somerset on Sept. 12.
"We've just been spending a lot of time in practice doing random shots instead of just sitting there on the range hitting one shot after another," Geldhof said.
Geldhof guided the Eagles to back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011 and would like to make some noise in LCA's first trip back as a team since that last championship.
"We're hoping to go to the big one and steal some more strokes," Geldhof said. "I think we're getting better each day."
Cooper Collins of Lexington Catholic and Zack Miller of Madison Central, along with Turner, will compete individually in the state tournament after finishing with the three highest scores not from teams who went on to state.
9th region tournament
At Kearney Hills Golf Links
68 —Ben Turner, Henry Clay.
71—Jacob Cook, Franklin Co.
72—Cooper Collins, Lexington Catholic; Evan Davis, Lexington Christian.
73—Zack Miller, Madison Central.
74—Jack Bergtrom, Sayre; CJ Jones, Franklin Co.; Joe Muschong, Lafayette; Justin Warman, Scott Co.
75—Tyler Cleveland, Franklin Co.; Harrison Lane, Lafayette; Jackson LaLonde, Lexington Christian; Alan Showalter, Paul Laurence Dunbar; Carter Skipworth, Madison Central; Tanner Wilson, Lexington Christian.
76—Will Molen, Franklin Co.; Will Harnice, Franklin Co.
77—Carter Pettigrew, Lexington Christian.
78—Will Ginter, Henry Clay; Evan Hall, Tates Creek; Mark O'Brien, Henry Clay; Trey Ogle, Scott Co.; Zach Wheeler, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
79—Ethan Hill, Paul Laurence Dunbar; Brady Howell, Henry Clay; Henry Lane, Lafayette; Blake Maupin, Berea.
80—Jordan Adams, Madison Central; Landon Allen, Paris; Trevor Farnstrom, Madison Southern; Caleb Hill, Tates Creek; Blake Scott, Lexington Catholic.