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Friday, July 27, 2018

2018 Highlands Golf Preview

Bluebirds Set to Tee Off

Contributed Photo. Highlands senior Steven Grimme prepares to take a shot last year.
It had been seven years since the Highlands Bluebirds boys golf team qualified for the state tournament as a team.

That changed last year. The Bluebirds finished runner-up in the 8th Region with 344 strokes behind Grant County's 326 score.

Highlands did not make the cut for the second day as a team in the state tournament. But sophomore JD Gabbard made it to the second day individually. He shot a two-day total of 150 good for a four-way tie for fourth at the Bowling Green Country Club.

"Most of my top players play in tournaments throughout the summer so they've put in a lot of work to get better," said Bert Richey, Highlands Head Coach. "They're a year older, stronger and wiser (with) a little more experience. We're young by age, but these kids have had a lot of opportunities the last couple years to play in a lot of tournaments so they should have the experience to put themselves in successful situations."

Highlands graduated Aaron Verst and Jackson Recht from that team. But three golfers who played in the state tournament last year return. They are seniors Steven Grimme, Ryan Leigh and sophomore Luke Muller. The hope is to not just return to Bowling Green this year, but to play a lot better.

"All of our guys really needed that exposure and that experience," Grimme said. "It's totally different down there than any of the matches. It's even different than region. The course is a lot harder. There are a lot more people there."

Several players will be battling for the five spots on the region tournament. They are senior Brady Walz, sophomore Isaiah Lampkin, eighth grader Joel Craft and seventh grader Ryan Toole.

Richey emphasizes hitting the ball away from water, trees, sand and other obstacles. He is also big on bouncing back mentally from bad shots.

"They do a good job of focusing on the next shot because we've talked about, 'You can never change the last shot, but you can the next shot," Richey said. "They know that the last one is over. It's easier said than done. There are times when you hold onto the last one a bit, but they do a good job of moving forward."

The Bluebirds play in the Bullitt East Invitational on Friday at 9 a.m. The site is Tanglewood Golf Course in Taylorsville just outside Louisville.

Highlands is able to host its own tournament at A.J. Jolly Course in Alexandria on Aug. 1. The first tee time is 8:30 a.m.

The Highlands girls improved to fifth in the 6th Region Tournament from ninth in 2016.

Highlands shot a 393 total at Lassing Pointe in Union to take fifth after shooting 419 in 2016. Highlands graduated four seniors from last year in Maleah Abner, Liz Mairose, Madalyn Howard and Libby Birkley.

Highlands has a new head coach in Michael Lipscomb. He is currently laying down a foundation for success.

"We have scheduled practices multiple times a week to make sure that the girls are working on all parts of their game," Lipscomb said. "We start every day with putting and work our way back further away from the hole. We're going to work every day to get better. I'm going to give the girls every opportunity that presents itself to show what they can do out there. The biggest thing that I'm trying to do this year is get people to understand that we do have a program that could do well in trying to get girls interested in playing because it's a great game and it really can teach a lot not only the lessons you can learn on the golf course but in life as well."

Lipscomb wants the girls to approach every shot with a plan. During his playing days, Lipscomb said he'd just grip the golf club, rip at the ball and hope for the best. He does not want the girls to develop the same habits.

"I've been working with the girls a lot on trying to decide what shots are available to them and what would be their safest miss at times if they were to mishit a shot," Lipscomb said. "Where on the green would be a good spot that would still be in a good position to have a decent, potential uphill put instead of putting the ball above the hole and having to put downhill because a lot of times, those extra strokes come from situations when you hit the ball above the hole and you can't control the ball coming back down the hill. Do I have to hit driver here all the time? Not necessarily. I can still hit a lower club that I can control better and then hit another club that I am really confident in that will give me my best shot at par. If we can get them grasp that, their scores are going to start to drop."

Lipscomb welcomes back three players with solid varsity experience. Sophomore Ellie Rowland had the best score for Highlands in the region tournament last year shooting a 92 good for 15th out of 72 golfers. The other two are senior Olivia Hopper and freshman K.J. Toole. Teams can take five players to the region tournament.

Lipscomb has liked what he's seen from junior Clara Bushman. But the fifth spot is up for grabs. The candidates to nab it are seniors Marlena Auch, Gwen Culyer, junior Megan Farney, freshman Lindsey Lorenz and seventh grader Bailey Markus.

The putting game can be huge differences in close matches. But Bushman said Lipscomb has a drill where they put balls at all angles around the hole to prepare the players for those situations.

"I think that strategy is especially going to help with the people that are new to the team and even for people that have been playing for a long time," Bushman said. "The main thing he emphasizes is accuracy. Even if we don't have the right speed, we at least have the right line and we can see where it has the potential to go."

The top two teams in each region and four lowest girls scores and three lowest boys scores not on either team per region also make the state girls tournament. Ryle won the 6th Region girls last year shooting a 304 and St. Henry finished runner-up shooting a 364.

The first match for the Highlands girls is Saturday in the Birdie Bash in Warsaw. Tee time is 8 a.m. at Sugar Bay Golf Course.

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