By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
WINDSOR — Sinking a long putt to birdie the final hole Monday, Maria Carrillo’s Hailey Begert-Hellings finished one shot short of qualifying for the NorCal girls prep golf finals.
The season’s top Empire golfer figures a two-putt on the sixth hole and an errant drive on the 12th cost her strokes needed to advance from the North Coast Section Tournament of Champions. Still, Begert-Hellings shot very well on the challenging Windsor Golf Course.
“I had a few shots that were off and I had to fight for some pars. Every shot counts,” said the Maria Carrillo junior. “But it was a good season. I’ll be coming back.”
While no Empire teams or individuals are moving on to the NorCal championships, the future is bright with several of the region’s best returning next season.
Begert-Hellings shot a 4-over par 76. Two other juniors among Empire leaders Monday were Casa Grande’s Emily Hulsman with an 85, and Gretchen Roderick of Ukiah settling for a 99. Cardinal Newman sophomore Megan McConnell recorded a 90. Analy senior Khiana Schmuhl fired an 82, and another senior, Amanda Hauth, from Windsor, finished with a 92.
Maria Carrillo had the low score among Empire teams, but the Pumas were well back of the top section squads. Windsor, Analy and Ukiah rounded out the region’s entries.
Playing on a familiar course close to home was an advantage for Empire players. Still, the competition from Bay Area powerhouse programs in the 21-team field was formidable.
“I like the challenge of playing with better players. It kind of rubs off on you,” said Schmuhl, competing in her third section championship. “I was happy that I got this far.”
Playing with one of the top two groups, Begert-Hellings worked hard to keep pace with the Bay Area’s best. One golfer birdied the first four holes.
After shooting 3-over par on the front nine holes, Begert-Hellings improved to 1-over on the back nine.
“I just found my swing. I was a little nervous at first,” she said. “I slowed it down a little bit and mostly focused on aiming.”
Featuring ample bunkers and numerous water hazards players must cross, Windsor Golf Course is not a grip-and-rip layout. Players must shoot target golf and those with the best chipping and putting games score lowest.
“It’s an interesting course. You can get into trouble very easily,” Schmuhl said.
Scoring a pair of birdies highlighted Hulsman’s day. More than a dozen bogeys revealed how tough Windsor can play.
Improving by 11 strokes from last year’s section championship has Hulsman excited for an even better senior season. She made the Windsor tournament by scoring low enough at the section qualifier in Antioch a week ago.
“I need more consistency. At least I made it back here,” Hulsman said.
Each of the Empire’s top returning golfers can improve over the next year in an effort to reach the coveted NorCal championships.
Playing more and mixing in spring and summer tournaments leads to straighter drives, sharper short games and more consistent putting.
Spending more time honing her game helped Begert-Hellings improve by 13 shots over her previous section finals best. While her 76 just missed Monday’s cut, Begert-Hellings didn’t hang her head.
“We have a lot of fun out there,” she said. “I’m pretty pleased with that score.”