The target El Dorado’s girls’ golf team wore this season as the defending 5A State champion proved not too heavy to carry. The Lady Wildcats won the conference tournament last week by a whopping 50 strokes.
The last 18 holes could be the toughest, however, as El Dorado will travel to Glenwood on Monday for this season’s 5A State Tournament.
“We would love to close out this season with our second consecutive title but there is a round of golf ahead that will decide that,” said El Dorado coach Chris Ezell. “We just want to go out there and compete to the best of our abilities.”
Ezell said going through the season as the defending champions wasn’t a burden. Instead, it led to a dominant run.
“The girls have thrived off the momentum from winning last year,” he said. “We had played most of the teams in our conference during the regular season and expected to win. The 50-stroke margin was more than what we expected. All of our girls had outstanding rounds Tuesday. We claimed three of the four All-Conference spots.”
The Lady Wildcats won every tournament or match they played except two. They finished second to Cabot at the Bryant Invitational and tied Nashville at Mystic Creek.
El Dorado will be favored at the state tournament.
“Mountain Home out of the East Conference posted the closest score that has been reported so far with a 258. They should be considered our biggest threat,” said Ezell, who talked about his team’s improvement.
“All of the girls have lowered their scoring averages from last year and that consistent improvement is what gives us the chance to win. We had four scores below 88 and that will be tough on other teams that rely on their number one player to go low.”
El Dorado’s success has been a team effort. Aubrey Marx has led a balanced scoring effort with Hope Walthall, Lani Hammock and Alexa Hulsey all shooting sub-90 scores at conference.
“Hope Walthall has continued to stretch out her level of experience by traveling outside the area to compete in junior events all over the region and has brought her scoring average down five points this year,” said Ezell. “Lani Hammock has made the most drastic improvement, getting her average down an amazing 11 strokes from last year. She really put in a lot of time on the course during the spring and summer and that has been huge for the girls’ team this year.”
El Dorado will also have a bit of an advantage since Glenwood Country Club is the same course that hosted the conference tournament last week.
“Hopefully we are able to mentally put our scores from (last week) behind us and focus on the next shot without looking back at previous scores from a certain hole,” he said. “It's like keeping score on a practice round and scoring really well, but the actual event comes and you don't keep pace with the scores from the day before. It can mess with you mentally, if you can't move on.”
On paper, the Lady Wildcats will be the solid favorite to claim the title. The course won’t be made of paper, however. Ezell said his team must maintain the consistent level it has displayed all season.
“The best thing about having the balance of all the girls capable of being in the 80's at Glenwood is there really isn't a lot of pressure on any of them to go out and have to have the round of their life for us to have a chance to win,” he explained. “A couple of bad holes will not destroy the team's chance for success. I feel that is one aspect that helps them perform at a high level. The combination of the group allows them to relax and play without having to try to outperform their abilities.
“My goal for all the girls is to go out and prepare for the course and play to the best of their abilities for that day. Making smart decisions to avoid the big numbers on a hole is crucial for our success. We are excited to get to watch them compete.”