SYRACUSE — Not until Sunday afternoon had TMP-Marian golfer Karee Dinkel and her teammates seen the Tamarisk Golf Course on which they would be playing their Monday Class 3-2-1A regional tournament.
But the nearly 200-mile one-way trip to make a tour of the 9-hole course a day early certainly paid dividends for Dinkel and the Monarchs as they stormed to the regional title.
Not only did the team easily outdistance runner-up and host Syracuse, a perennial small-class state power, by 26 shots (386 to 412), but Dinkel was the primary reason for the rout.
All the sophomore sensation did was shoot a brilliant 6-over-par 78 to not only capture medalist honors, but win it in runaway fashion, besting Syracuse’s Laura Geven by an astounding 21 shots as the host golfer was second with a 99.
Even the soft-spoken Dinkel was amazed at what she had just accomplished on a perfect, calm, sun-drenched fall afternoon.
The victory enables the Monarchs to return to the Class 3-2-1A state tournament on Monday of next week, but this time with more purpose and confidence.
At least that’s the way Dinkel sees it.
“Last year, we just got a lot of experience, myself included,” she said afterward. “It was my first year of competing, and I had a lot of things to learn.”
It has been a meteoric rise to being perhaps one of the top golfers in the small-class schools, but Dinkel sees all of her hard work now starting to pay off.
Pretty impressive when one considers that Dinkel had never broken 90 until June while playing summer tournaments. Three months later, she broke 80 for the first time in competition at the Larned Invitational, and then duplicated the score Monday.
“I was going to the course every day, playing tournaments, going to golf camps,” said Dinkel, who only took the game up seriously 18 months previously. “My dad (Jeff) has been my biggest supporter and encouraged me. This is a game that you’re never gonna be perfect. You can never work hard enough, but I love the game.”
It was that work ethic that paid off with a solid front 9 of 3-over-par 39 that put her six shots clear of Syracuse’s Kate Plunkett halfway through on Monday. And it was that work ethic that saw her overcome four consecutive bogeys to begin her final 9 holes before she steadied herself and played the final five holes in 1-under-par for another 39.
“It’s such a mental game, and you have to be strong enough to handle adversity,” Dinkel said. “For this course, I knew I had to hit it straight, and I had to make putts. I did the first part better than the last (she had four 3-putts in her round).”
Dinky was the only Monarch to excel. Taylor Dinkel (no relation) placed third with a 101, Alison Helmet was fourth at 102 and Annaka Applequist was ninth with a 105, giving the team four in the top 10.
“I think when we qualified (for state) last year, we just went and learned a lot,” Dinkel said. “This time around, we’re going to play with the intent on competing to win.”
She’s excited and nervous about earning the opportunity to play in the final group of the state tournament with the other three regional medalists.
“Usually when I play with other golfers at my level, it’s more enjoyable and more of a challenge for me,” Dinkel said. “I think my long game (drives) is the best part of my game. The short game (chipping, putting) can always improve. To have this kind of round just shows that the hard work is paying off.”
Note: Russell’s Sam Ptacek also qualified as an individual, shooting a 104 to place seventh for Broncos.