LEDBETTER -- Graves County's Nicole Taylor and McCracken County's Jessica Stephens could've quit in any moment. Especially in the dead heat of a dry Monday afternoon at Drake Creek Golf Club.
But the pair -- part of a trio earning the 2018 First Region Player of the Year award -- instead summoned the spirit of competition and battled through seven playoff holes before Taylor's 60-footer of a putt twirled and dropped in the No. 18 green cup for her third-consecutive West Kentucky Junior Golf Championship.
Taylor and Stephens had been in a playoff together before (for the 2018 First Region individual title, no less), but nothing as stressful -- or as unrelenting -- as this.
"It was definitely tiring; I'm not going to lie," Taylor said. "But it was fun to get to keep playing. Neither of us wanted to call it quits."
Stephens was 2-under after nine holes and toted a one-shot lead over Taylor and a two-shot lead over fellow tee partner and third 2018 First Region Co-Player of the Year Margaret Butts (St. Mary). She'd unfortunately roughed up her tee shot and posted a double-bogey on No. 10, which left Stephens and Taylor to create the pace.
Sitting at even coming up to the final regulation green, Taylor just missed a chance to evade the playoff -- when her 35-foot putt from the foot of the green skipped over the cup instead of falling for a big-time birdie.
From there, Stephens and Taylor would simply mirror each other. They'd par … then birdie … No. 10. They'd revisit No. 18, then go back and play holes No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 before coming back to No. 18.
Taylor's approach was well short of the daunting water out front, and her fairway stroke land right and in front of those trees to the right side.
Her flop shot, however, landed just inside the right fringe and allowed for a putt, and after Stephens missed a heartbreaking 5-foot par putt, Taylor jarred it.
"I shot the round of my life today," Stephens said. "And I really wanted to round it out today. But I've got to give credit to Nicole; that was a pretty awesome putt, and I missed the short one. But I'd never shot even in competition."
For Taylor, this is just the kind of sprucing she wanted before heading to Union University for collegiate golf in the fall
And for someone like Stephens (who currently owns interest from Freed-Hardeman, Bellarmine and Midway), this was the kind of challenge needed to help push her into her senior year as the Lady Mustangs' No. 1 ace.
"The lesson is 'definitely not to give up,'" Taylor said. "It gets hard. It's hot, and that makes you want to quit. But you just have to know to keep pushing to get it done."
Added Stephens: "You've got to have perseverance. Whenever we went to hole No. 9, but were supposed to be at No. 7, I was like 'let's just call it.' But then I was like, 'no, I don't really want to.' I wanted to win. Me and Nicole -- we go back and forth. It's fun."
Butts wound up finishing fourth with a 76, while Graves County's Ellie West snuck up and took third place with a 74 … thanks to a scorching 33 on the back nine.
Ballard Memorial's Autumn Dowdy was coming off a strong season in fall and winter sports last year, following a season-ending 106 at the 2018 First Region girls golf championships with team-highs for Lady Bombers basketball in 3-pointers (50), free throw percentage (60%) and points per game (8.3).
Five games into the 2019 softball season, she'd been on a tear, too -- going 5-for-15 with two doubles, five walks, six runs scored and three RBIs while playing centerfield.
But on March 26 against Mayfield, Dowdy suffered a devastating season-ending injury … a broken right fibula while sliding into third base.
After being completely cleared for stress tests in mid-June, Dowdy's return to competition came on Monday at Drake Creek Golf Club in Ledbetter, where she fired a 90 -- 16 shots better than her regional final a year prior.
The difference? An unfortunate -- but required -- patience that comes from dealing with a serious, side-lining injury. "It definitely did (help)," she said. "Because I've never broken anything and never had to sit and just do nothing for awhile. I think it really did teach me patience."
Dowdy noted it also helps that golf -- and not basketball or softball -- is the first sport up this season.
Clearly it's a lower impact sport, and she likes that it's helping get back into mental and physical shape the right way.
"Basketball is really hard on your body, and it's really a lot of running," she added. "Quick stops and starts. And that's kind of where my ankle is going 'not yet.' Golf will help strengthen it back up -- walking up and down hills and all that stuff. It'll strengthen it back up and get it ready for basketball.
"(But I) just stay in my head and focus. Whenever I do have a bad shot, (I) shake it off and go to the next hole. Eliminate the bogeys and double bogeys that I have. Make more pars. And if I get a birdie, that's OK. But really, I just need less bogeys and make more pars. Stay in my head. Stay focused. Not get all whacky and mad."
Transfers on top
A pair of transfer boys golfers -- Walker McNeill (to McCracken County) and Jack Butts (to Paducah Tilghman) -- won their respective age divisions on Monday, topping fairly strong groups in both ages.
McNeill (16-18 years old) edged Hickman County's Tyler Abernathy (79) and Paducah Tilghman's Michael Sanders (80, count-back) with a 78, in what he considers one of his better outings this summer.
But after sitting out last season following a departure from Paducah Tilghman, McNeill is just ready to get back into the swing of playing for his school.
"I had several finishes in the upper 80s in June," he said. "I was just really focused on my round today and taking it one hole at a time and just moving on to the next hole."
Butts, meanwhile, topped Marshall County's Trey Wall (76) and Preston Futrell (80) in the 14-15 age group with a sizzling 73 … which would've been good enough to play with just about anyone on Monday.
"I've played this course a lot, and I know all the nooks and crannies of where to go and what not," Butts said.
"I've just got to keep my mind in it, keep playing good and keep hitting my next shot well. (But next year) is going to be fun, because I'm playing basketball and golf there (at Tilghman), and we're going to be pretty good in both. I've just got to continue to play well."