Schmuhl, Lorence hope to star at NCS

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After just two years on the links, Analy high’s Khiana Schmuhl has the short game and putting many more experienced prep golfers covet.

Hitting the ball long is Piner senior Rachel Lorence’s strength.

Both aim to raise their overall games heading into the North Coast Section Tournament of Champions in Antioch on Monday. Schmuhl and Lorence reached the finals after scoring low enough — best among all Empire golfers — at the sectional qualifier in Sunol last week.

Maria Carrillo’s team already earned a spot by winning the North Bay League. Casa Grande and Ukiah qualified in an expanded field this year.

Going as an individual is particularly challenging. Without team support on often difficult courses, players must be mentally strong to go it alone for 18 holes — twice what they play in league matches.

Despite not playing her best, Schmuhl, just a sophomore, displayed the mental toughness to do well enough to advance.

“I know like anything’s possible,” Schmuhl said. “I was thinking wow I did really bad. Then I saw the other scores when I came in and it wasn’t too bad compared to everyone else.”

While most prep golfers first learn the sport years earlier, Schmuhl just took it up as a teenager. With help from her father, William, and tips from brother, Jason Schmuhl, a Windsor pro, she has overcome any early frustrations and doubts.

“I’ve been working on it and trying not to give up,” she said. “My dad just kept working with me. He was the one who never gave up on me.”

Schmuhl’s round at the NCS qualifier was a study in steady golf.

Hooking many drives off the tee, Schmuhl needed to work out of trouble often to seemingly salvage a qualifying spot.

“I did that pretty much every hole. I had a good second shot and had really good putting and chips. Those helped out in the long run,” Schmuhl said.

Golf is a difficult game. Improving as you play makes it more fun, Schmuhl said.

“I just want to keep working with it and see how it goes,” she said. “And in golf there’s that one great shot out there.”

For the veteran Lorence, the experience of playing in sectional qualifiers the past two years mattered more than not advancing out of those tournaments.

“The third time was a charm,” she said. “I definitely played a lot better than the last two years.”

After shooting a decent practice round on the same course two days earlier, Lorence had an approach on her drives that paid off with a lower score in the qualifier.“Some of the holes were tough. You really had to place your ball on the drive,” she said. “They were definitely some of the best drives I’ve hit this season.”

Once on the green, two days of rain did little to slow putts.

“They were actually really fast, which caught me off guard and it took me a couple of holes and then I got in a rhythm,” Lorence said.

Much as Schmuhl wondered if her score was low enough to advance, Lorence had her own doubts.

“A lot of the scores were right around mine. Then my coach came up to me and said I’ve got bad news, you’ve got to play Monday,” Lorence said.