In Thursday’s Holcomb Invitational Girls golf tournament at Buffalo Dunes, the late summer of hot temperatures and blustery wind conditions were the chief challengers for the 47 competitors from 11 southwest and northwest Kansas schools.
While individually, it was Goodland’s Kerrigan Rudolph’s 77 that captured medalist honors (the only player to break 80 on the par-72 layout) and TMP-Marian’s Shannen Chin’s runner-up score of 81, the team honors went to a tried and true top team from the area — the Syracuse Bulldogs.
Coach Rick Mathias’ balanced squad shot a team score of 356 to easily outdistance runner-up Goodland’s 384 for a 28-shot triumph.
The other top area performers were Holcomb senior Megan Burrows, who shot a career-low 83 and placed third, while Stanton County sophomore Rylie Cook was fourth with an 84.
The Bulldogs accomplished their win by virtue of a balanced scoring effort, led by Kate Plunkett’s 86, which placed her fifth individually. But teammates Paige Barnes (88) and Riley Baker (90) also placed in the top 10 while another teammate, Carly Kullot (91) was 11th, just missing out on the medal chase.
Nonetheless, it was an impressive showing on a difficult course, in trying conditions, and Mathias was pleased with his team’s lowest total of the season.
“This morning, I told the kids no matter the conditions, everybody has to play and to just grasp it and go with it,” Mathias said afterward. “When it’s like this (95 degrees, 25-35 mph wind), you just have to stay mentally in and play. And that’s what we did.”
The Bulldogs’ Andie Coleman (108) and Kendi Keller (103) were non-counters Thursday, but both have had scores count thus far, giving Mathias a six-deep roster.
“We’ve had a lot of different girls who have been our low score at a tournament so far, and at least twice we didn’t use our No. 1 player that day,” Mathias said. “We’ve just had the players bounce back and forth in the lineup, and I think that’s good for in-house competition. They’re competing for spots all the time.”
And if that wasn’t enough proof in the depth pudding, Mathias also had the top two scores in the junior varsity portion of the tournament as Hannah Lampe (54) and Candace Englert (58) captured that division.
“When we get everybody going, we’ve got six players who we can count on,” Mathias said.
For Holcomb’s Burrows, it was a great effort in her final round on her home course, to shoot her lowest round after posting nines of 41-42.
“It was fun out there,” she said when her round was complete. “I like playing with all of them (best players), and it’s just easier to play and stay focused.”
Burrows, who played in the lead group with Chin, Rudolph and Cook, said her start was a bit shaky, opening with a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 1st. But then, she reeled off five straight pars on holes 2 through 6. Another double bogey on the seventh was followed by a bogey-par finish for her 41 front nine.
“I think that’s the best stretch of making pars I’ve had, and my putting has improved a lot,” Burrows said. “I’ve worked on that a lot this week. I was also able to hit it pretty straight off the tee, and that’s important out here.”
Burrows said her previous low of 84 was shot during her junior year and just three days earlier on Monday had shot an 86 at Colby.
“I was just trying to be aware of where the wind was blowing,” Burrows said of her strategy. “I haven’t been able to put a good combination round together. It was either good hitting and poor putting, or vice-versa.”
This moved Burrows closer to her season-long goal of breaking 80.
“I’m just truckin’ along and trying to minimize my errors so I have a chance to break 80,” Burrows said.
For Stanton County’s Cook, the 84 was a letdown from her previous rounds this season, she said, indicating it was her highest score this fall.
“I was spraying my driver everywhere, then I’d punch out, get to the greens and couldn’t make a putt,” she said. “I got off to a fairly good start, but just couldn’t get any consistency from my usually steady game.”
A dual-sport fall athlete, Cook, along with twin sister Caelyn, also run cross country for the Trojans, so their days are long and hectic.
From 5:30 a.m. wake-up to evening study hours and a 9 p.m. bedtime, the schedule perhaps has taken a bit of a toll on Cook.
“I’m just not quite as sharp with everything,” Cook said. “But I know I’ve improved my wedges under 100 yards. We get regionals at home, and it’s a course I know I can go low.”
Most of the area schools will compete Tuesday at the Ulysses Invitational, to be played at Bentwood Golf Course.