If there is such a thing as home course advantage, the Legacy Christian Academy girls golf team can call Pebble Creek Golf Course in Becker its home after capturing its second straight Class A team golf championship Wednesday afternoon.
The Lions carded five of eight rounds in the 80s to edge runner-up BOLD (Olivia, Minnesota) by 14 strokes to defend its 2013 state title.
Legacy overcame a two-shot deficit to BOLD after the first day of play this year. Last year the comeback was eight strokes, so coach Dan Nelson knew the team had the ability overcome a deficit.
“Down two shots was actually fine with us,” Nelson said, with BOLD in the lead and Filmore County, Harmony two strokes behind the Lions after Tuesday.
This was the team’s third straight team showing at state.
During the time between sections and state, Nelson had the team play the course four times before the official practice round to become even more familiar with its nuances.
“It helped that we were close by,” Nelson said. The familiarity from the practice rounds and experience from the last two state tourneys helped the golfers know where they could shave strokes and cut corners. “They love the course,” he said.
As impressive as the team scores were, Legacy didn’t have single standout instead relying on the collective power of the team,
Ninth-grader Kayla Ruf carded rounds of 89 and 87 for a 176 total to tie for 11th place to lead the group. Eighth grader Sophia Gray was one stroke back after 36 holes (88-89–177) tied for 13th place.
One of three junior captains, Jillian Johnson shot an 180 (95-85) to place 16th overall, fellow captain Anna Cleveland tied for 23rd place (185), eighth grader Jadyn Nelson tied for 47th place (199) and Lindsey McAlpin tied for 53rd place (201).
Four of the six scoring golfers returned for Legacy in what is developing into a powerhouse among the state’s smallest class of programs.
Two years ago, Gray’s older sister Rachel closed out her high school career with the individual title and now golfs for Concordia University, St. Paul and has helped coach the Lions at times this spring.
Not having that clear-cut low scorer has forced everyone on the team to focus on their own round and shooting as low as possible, knowing the collective score is how they have built the program up.
Johnson said one benefit from such close scorers on the team is that anyone can play in the top spot or fourth spot and it doesn’t affect their play. “We’ve all been playing together for a while and are always improving that it doesn’t matter where we play. We all play our own game anyway.”
Nelson said: “I’ve got the most humble kids. Even coming out (Wednesday) it wasn’t about them (individually) none of these girls are vying for (the medalist), it’s a team thing.”
Comparing the last two seasons, Nelson said the sheer exhilaration of unexpectedly winning the state title last year couldn’t be topped. “The year before Rachel (Gray) carried us and we didn’t even know if we would make it to state last spring so the surprise was fantastic,” he said.
The expectation was already there coming into this season with the team intact. “We knew we could do it with low scores and not an arrogance because we did this before, but I knew if we shot scores like we did in practice we would be tough to beat,” he said.
Legacy shot a 367 the first day after going 353 and 347 in practice. “I was rattled a little bit going to bed (Tuesday) but (Activities Director and boys golf coach) JP (Lindgren) encouraged me. He said, ‘They’re going to be find and shoot their 350 stuff and walk away winning by 12 (shots).’ He was off by two.”
Knowing the course
One example of the experience paying off was how Ruf cut the turn on a dogleg left Hole 8 on the White course using an iron off the tee.
“Most go driver then hit an approach shot but both days I went over the trees and was about 100 yards out,” she said. “Everyone thought I missed the drive but I was right there.”
She also drained two long birdie putts on the front-side par-3s to keep pace with the leaders.
“We knew yardage better and what club to hit,” Ruf said. “We had the confidence to know if we hit a bad shot how to get out (of that spot) because we were there last week (during practice).”
The result was no crooked numbers across the scorecard. “No blow-up holes but a few big numbers,” Ruf said about her scorecard.
Johnson came away from each practice round with something new. “I learned every inch of that course because every shot went somewhere else,” she said. One key for her came on the White course Hole 2. “There is a tree in the middle of the fairway and I usually cut left.”
She went against what everyone else did and the consensus was her drive was lost. Instead, her ball was very well positioned to attack the green for a birdie chance.
A third straight team title is within striking distance with this spring’s captains returning for their senior season and Gray and Ruf one year older.
“A lot of it is finding time to get out there and play and practice and just have fun playing during the summer to get better,” Gray said, noting that the team built a homemade golf simulator in the basement of the school to keep playing during the winter. “We know we can do it again. It was so incredible to do it last year… and getting there again. Everyone has such high expectations and it was great to see it pay off.”
Besides going for the third state title in a row, Ruf wants to see a Lion return to the top of the podium as individual champion or have everyone individually medal. With only three years experience under her belt, Ruf has a chance to develop a top-tier career in the coming seasons. “I really enjoy it and finding success helps me want it more,” she said, as a standout on the volleyball and basketball court for the Lions.
Most of the team will take part in junior PGA Tour events throughout the state. The Valspar Junior Tour has several stops in the area including Green Haven Golf Course in Anoka June 20; Princeton GC June 23; Purple Hawk in Cambridge June 27; Majestic Oaks GC July 14; Victory Links July 17 and Rum River Hills GC July 21,
Jason Olson is at