PATASKALA ― The weather didn’t cooperate on Monday, wiping out a likely showcase for the Licking County League’s deep stable of talented girls golfers.
Drenching rains postponed the season’s first conference tournament about halfway through at Cumberland Trail Golf Club (it may or may not be made up). But it gave some of the top players time to reflect on what has already been a stellar start to 2023.
“Every year, it just gets better and better,” Utica senior Olivia Dickson, who earlier carded a career-best 72 on her Links at Echo Springs course during the Utica Invitational, said about the competition. “Playing with the ones, it lifts my game and they really push me to be better,” she said.
Among the “ones” Monday were Watkins Memorial senior Gracie James, who has already fired a 65 on her home Cumberland Trail course during the Watkins Memorial Invitational, also shooting a 68 at Echo Springs during the Utica Invitational and a 69 there during the Lady Lion Invitational.
James was 4-under-par through eight holes Monday before she bogeyed No. 9 and play was halted. She has loved playing in the LCL events, going on her fourth year. Three more are scheduled in addition to a possible makeup for the Cumberland Trail event.
“There’s a lot of good players here, and it’s always fun,” she said. “I get to see a lot friends that I play with during the spring and summer.”
One of those is Lakewood senior Avery Thompson, who like James will attend Findlay University next fall.
“We plan on being roommates, and I’m really excited about that,” Thompson said. “Playing with her and the others in the first group, makes me strive to be a better player. My goal is to be (LCL) Player of the Year, and I think we could win the league again.”
Classmate Lexi French was at 2-over-par through nine Monday and Thompson was 3-over-par. French shot a 70 in the Watkins event, while Thompson led the way with 70 in the Utica invite. They helped the Lancers win the Muskie Invitational at Zanesville Jaycees Golf Course.
“I’ve been really solid with my irons, and once I get my putting down, I’ll get to where I want to be,” Thompson said.
Dickson has steadily improved her game during her four years.
“It’s my last year, and my ultimate goal is to make the state,” she said. “It felt good getting that (the 72) on my home course. I’ve worked on gaining distance and have done a lot of strength training, and I’ll continue to work on my short game.”
James hopes to parlay her hot start into a return to the Division I state tournament, which she missed last year in a power-packed district field that included New Albany sophomore Mia Hammond, who recently tied for 26th in the LPGA tour event at Toledo. James tied for 11th in the state as a sophomore.
“I’m driving the ball really well, and my wedges are really working. I’ve been able to hit a lot of greens, and make my putts” she said.
In her 65 at Cumberland Trail, she carded an amazing 29 on the back nine that included seven birdies and an eagle on a par-5. “My putting was so good that day,” she said. “I was literally making everything I putted.”
James said it’s going to take a lot of focus to get back to the state and contend for a state title.
“It will depend on my putter getting hot, but really, it’s more about the mental than the physical, and limiting mistakes,” she said.
Some other excellent players, and teams, have emerged in the LCL thus far.
On Monday, Newark Catholic sophomore Caylee Lattimer was at 2-over-par when play was stopped, Licking Valley junior Jacqueline Gieseler was at 3-over and Granville freshman Ella Clarke was 4-over. Lattimer was medalist at Hocking Hills, helping the Green Wave win the Logan Invitational.
Clarke is part of a well-balanced Blue Aces’ team that shot a school record 310 at EagleSticks in Zanesville at the Circle K Invitational, placing second. Junior Olivia Jones carded 72 on that day and classmate Ainsley Laidlaw-Smith posted 77 to lead the way at the Utica invite, where the Blue Aces won the title with 317 and had four golfers at 81 or lower.
This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Rain can’t dampen impressive start to season for LCL girls golfers