Osage’s Sydney Riley and Eldon’s Kassidy Hull and Hannah Petet to take on the best in Missouri
It is the tournament every high school golfer hopes to play in.
The Missouri Class 1 Girls Golf State Championship will tee off at Fremont Hills Golf Couse in Nixa on Monday morning and a trio of Lake area golfers in Osage’s Sydney Riley and Eldon’s Kassidy Hull and Hannah Petet have earned their right to hit the links with some of the best golfers in the state. It is the culmination of every tee shot, every putt and all the extra time spent on the fairways and greens perfecting the craft. What was once a field of 427 total golfers across Missouri when districts began is now down to the final 90 and there will be just one who emerges as a state champion after two days and 36 holes of golf.
Riley qualified for her first state tournament a season ago as a sophomore and she is back for another shot at the hardware in 2019. The opportunity did not come easily, though, as she fought back from a tough front nine in sectionals at Payne Stewart Golf Course in Springfield and made the cut for state by a single stroke.
“I had a really good practice round coming out strong and then my next day was just a mess,” Riley recalled of the sectional tournament. “In the middle I had to get really strong and start thinking that if I want to make it I have to buckled own and hit some good shots so that is what it took.”
Easier said than done, but Riley found a way.
“It is just a testament to the hard work she puts in. Having done this with a few different players now, the second year is always harder,” said Osage coach L.J. Weeks who has now helped an Indian male or female golfer reach state for five consecutive years. “You make it once and are sometimes a little surprised you got there. Then, a lot of times the pressure is back on to do it again.
“To those who have not been, it is hard to do and really difficult. Then you got the mental aspect of putting pressure on yourself to do it so very proud that she’s been able to.”
For Riley, it was some validation that she belonged with the top golfers and that last year’s state qualification was no accident.
“It is honestly a pretty great accomplishment, but the best par tis that I now know that I’m a better athlete than my brother,” Riley joked about her older brother Nick, a 2018 Osage graduate who also played golf for the Indians. “That is what it really meant to me.”
Weeks noted that like any golfer who wants to reach state, Riley put in the hard work that is also required in the summer and the junior was able to elevate her game with the ability to hit different shots in different situations. She will look to improve upon a 72nd place finish in 2018 amongst a field of 91.
“Sometimes you don’t know when it is going to show up. Today we’ve been trying to get her to work on hitting the draw a little bit better because that is a great go-to shot for her,” the coach said during a Wednesday practice at Osage National ahead of the tournament. “You go practice it, try to make it happen and it is another tool you got in your bag.”
Weeks and Riley were also working on the short game during the week, trying to sharpen the putting as well for a course Osage is familiar with, being the site of last season’s sectional round.
“It is a tighter corse. you really have to be focused on the tee and keeping the ball in play,” Weeks pointed out.
“The nice thing is that last week the pressure was on because you have to make the cut. You are worried about a number and now that pressure is gone. You can just go play and not have to worry about making a cut. If she can treat it like a practice round almost and just be relaxed, I think she’ll do very well.”
Riley concurred with the strategy and however the 36 holes play out, she is glad to be representing Osage.
“I would not want to golf anywhere else. I love my coaches, I love my teammates and I love the school I play for,” the junior said.
Hull, a returning All-State golfer, has made the state tournament for a third straight year and the junior is not alone this time as Petet has reached state for the first time as a sophomore. The Mustang duo will soon find out what they are made of among the best and Eldon coach Matt Frey was glad to see the hard work pay off.
“Kassidy obviously always sets high goals for herself and wants to finish in the top five in every tournament, if not win. Sometimes she puts a little too much pressure on herself, but that is not a bad thing and something you always want to see,” the coach remarked. “‘Gracie’ has taken everything I’ve said all year, taken it in stride and just improved every round and shot her best round at sectionals.”
Not a bad time for the best outing of the young sophomore’s career. Petet finished 10th at sectionals amongst a field of 50 golfers at Payne Stewart Golf Course in Springfield and Hull did more than enough to qualify as well, finishing sixth. It is just a continuation of what has been a fun ride for the girls golf program at Eldon that includes a Tri-County Conference team title, Hull’s two straight individual conference and district championships and back-to-back team district titles- all for a program that has only been around seven years.
“I feel like it is really exciting that people are starting to actually see that golf is taking off because nobody was really focusing on it before, especially girls golf,” said Hull who earned All-State recognition last season by finishing seventh amongst 91 golfers at state- an honor reserved for the top 15. “It is exciting to be starting something for Eldon and get recognition I feel like we deserve.”
Well, some have started to take notice. Frey, who teaches at the middle school, said he has been getting a few questions about the program from some middle schoolers who may be teeing off for the Mustangs in the near future.
“I see a lot of positive things with girls golf with the footsteps these girls are laying for the rest of the girls,” the coach said.
Hull and Petet will now look to make a few more positive steps at state. For Hull, the goal is to put up a better score than last year and continue to climb up the ladder towards the top of the podium.
“I feel like there is a lot of pressure from other people and myself to just do it again for sure, if not better. My mindset has changed a little bit and I expect a little bit more out of myself trying to nail stuff down,” the junior said of her All-State ambitions.
“We played there before so I sort of know the course. It is narrow so trying to play safe is really my strategy this time around. Just play it safe so I can keep out of trouble.”
Petet is undoubtedly excited to be playing in her first state tournament and noted that she is glad to have some familiar faces around in Hull and Frey for support.
“I can just got out there and play,” she said.
“For sectionals I kind of just went out there and pretty much winged it. I kept calm and that is what I am going to try to do for state.”
Frey said the “tight” course resembles the home course at Eldon Golf Club so scoring will have a little more emphasis than how far each Mustang can hit the ball as precision will be key. However the tournament plays out, he is also excited about the future as Missouri changes girls golf from two classes to four.
“We always want to go out and try to finish the best we can. When I have girls returning we want to obviously do better each year so we kind of sit back and look at what we’re up against,” the coach noted. “It is a fantastic field in Class 1 golf this year so I think we are just going to try to improve each year and hopefully with what MSHSAA (Missouri State High School Activities Association) is doing, it is going to open up the field for so many more girls. I think it is going to make it a lot more fun sport for girls golf.”