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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
MADERA -- Stockdale junior Jessica Park is a 4.0 student with three Advanced Placement courses and an honors course as well. So naturally, when she gets out on the golf course, she tries not to think about much.
She succeeded Tuesday at the Madera Golf Club, shooting a 6-over-par 78 that made her the runner-up at the Central Section Individual Golf Championships.
"It was probably the biggest tournament of the year, but I wasn't nervous because I thought of it as just another tournament," Park said. "I don't want to psych myself out."
Park shot a tournament-best 37 on the front nine, then grinded out a 41 on the back that left her two strokes behind champion Hannah Facchini of Hanford West, who shot 76.
"I had no idea I was in the lead," said Park, who bagged four birdies, including a tap-in after a brilliant bunker shot on No. 18. "I just wanted to beat the 79 I shot at this tournament last year. I think I've developed as a player since then."
Clovis West and Clovis-Buchanan dominated the section team championships last week in Lemoore, but Kern County had its day in the individuals. Including Park, local players took six of the 12 qualifying spots for the CIF Southern California Regional, which is a state qualifier Nov. 14 in Murrieta. On this day, finishing in the top 12, excluding Clovis West and Buchanan players who qualified with their teams, meant shooting 84 or better.
All six local qualifiers cited reaching the regional as a season-long goal realized.
For Centennial senior Amy Cooper, who tied for fifth with an 81 after an up-and-down season, this has been something she has waited for her whole career.
"I wish I could have done it in the past, but just the fact I got there my senior year is reward enough," Cooper said.
On the opposite end of the career spectrum is Stockdale's precocious freshman, Lexi Keene, who won the South Area tournament last week and became a rare frosh regional qualifier with an 82 here. Then, she raised the bar for herself.
"I'm happy to move on, but I'm a little disappointed," said Keene, who added she had seven three-putts. "I just couldn't get a feel for the greens. I put it in perspective -- sure, I'm just a freshman -- but I don't like to make excuses for myself. I've done better on other courses; I should be able to do it here."
Keene was one of five players to shoot 82. Two others were seniors Mallory Wells of Liberty and Julia Stewart of Bakersfield Christian.
Wells said the course played tough and that she qualified by grinding out pars, including one on No. 15 where she salvaged a bad drive by punching out from under a tree and hitting a long par putt that sat on the lip for a few seconds before dropping in.
"Honestly, I didn't think I was going to make it," said Wells, who led the Patriots to a Southwest Yosemite League title.
"The girls here are all so wonderful. I guess I was just lucky. The trees were so big here, the fairways were difficult and the greens were definitely tricky. I think that made the scores shoot up a little bit."
Stewart had trouble on the front nine, shooting 45, before shooting a tournament-best 37 on the back nine to salvage her round.
"Things just weren't going my way," she said. "I told myself on the 10th tee that I had to turn it around, and I was able to. Going from 45 to 37, that's great."
The final local qualifier was Southeast Yosemite League-low scorer Vanessa Watkins of Highland, a sophomore who shot an 83 and left the course in tears, thinking she had played too poorly to reach the regional.
But on a championship day where scoring was tough, Watkins received a pleasant surprise.
"I bogeyed 18, and I thought I had to par," Watkins said. "I did not play well. But my coach told me, 'Hey, you're tied for 11th.' I'm extremely happy. The tears are gone."