Connelly takes fresh approach in girls golf

Northeast freshman breaks state record after Ryder called off

October 24, 2001|By Nathan Max | Nathan Max,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - Originally, Northeast freshman Stephanie Connelly would not have had the opportunity to participate in the 36-hole Maryland high school golf tournament, held yesterday and Monday at the University of Maryland golf course.

Connelly, 14, had been scheduled to represent the United States in the Ryder Cup junior tournament in Dublin, Ireland from Sept. 24-26. Since those dates conflicted with the District 5 tournament, Connelly could not have qualified, and thus would have been ineligible to play the state tournament. But because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Ryder Cup was postponed and Connelly went to the District tournament.

Yesterday afternoon, she put the finishing touches on a 6-over-par 148 to break an 18-year-old state record and win the girls title by nine strokes over defending champion Ashley Grier of Smithsburg.

"I guess it was lucky that I could make it, but it was really sad what happened," said Connelly, who was one of six girls and six boys nationally to be selected for the junior Ryder Cup team that will now compete next year. "It was really weird how somehow that just kind of worked out."

In the boys tournament, it was another 14-year old freshman - Joe Gross of McDonough - who shot a 2-over 144 to edge Northeast junior Brian Carneal and Francis Scott Key junior Raymond Sheedy by one stroke. Gross became the first male freshman to win the state title since Charles Hong of Walt Whitman in 1996.

"I basically played the way I could," said Gross, who sank a 15-foot putt for par on the 18th hole to secure the victory. "I figured people would shoot better than what they did. I just happened to get lucky enough that I got the right number."

Connelly broke two long-standing state records, both held by Clare Dolan of Seneca Valley, by one shot apiece. Her two-day total of 148 broke Dolan's record of 149 set in 1983. Also, Connelly's first-round score of 73 on Monday beat Dolan's one-day record of 74, also set in 1983.

"I wasn't even really thinking of that," said Connelly, who plays out of Sparrows Point Country Club in Dundalk. "I wasn't really sure what to expect. I knew I could score well on the course, but I never really thought about a record or anything like that. I just tried to go out there to win."

Connelly started the day with a five-shot lead over senior Lauren Yamada of Wootton and a seven-shot advantage over Grier. But after a slow start, in which she bogeyed the 10th and double-bogeyed the 14th and 15th, Connelly stood 5-over on the day through six holes.

However, Connelly then birdied the 16th, third, fourth and sixth to finish 1-under over her final 12 holes, complete a 4-over 75 round and glide to the title.

"I didn't play great today, but overall, it wasn't too bad," said Connelly, whose round started on the 10th hole. "After [the consecutive double bogeys], I figured it's not a good day; let's just try for some damage control. I just tried to keep my swing together, and every time I made the green [in regulation], I made at least a par."

Unlike the girls competition, the boys came down to the end. Moments after Gross hit his par putt on 18, Carneal had a chance to send the tournament into a playoff with an 8-foot putt to save par on his final hole. But Carneal, who had hit his drive into the right rough and his second shot short of the green, missed by inches.

"I found out right after I missed it," said Carneal, who started the afternoon seven strokes behind Gross, but stormed back with birdies on the seventh, ninth, 10th, 13th and 15th holes to finish the day with a 2-under 69. "I would've liked to have known before, but that's the way it goes."

Sheedy, who finished a wild round with an even-par 71, also narrowly missed sending the tournament to a playoff. Shortly before Gross made his winning putt, Sheedy missed a chip shot on his final hole, also No. 1, by two inches. Earlier, Sheedy eagled two par 5s, the 13th and 16th, and birdied the 18th to climb into contention. He had started the morning with a double bogey on his first hole, No. 2, and a recorded a triple bogey on No. 12.

Arundel junior Brian Scott, who entered the morning in second place, led early in the day before fading.

In the team competition, Pikesville won the 2A-1A title with a four-team score of 642. Seniors Ira Cohen (154) and Jordan Steinfelder (156) and juniors Kevin Rosenberg (159) and Joey Eaton (173) combined to give the Panthers their second straight state title.

J.M. Bennett of Wicomico County finished six shots back with a 648, and Towson came in third with a 651. Howard (676) placed fifth.

In the 4A-3A, McDonough of Charles County won with an overall tournament low score of 609. Churchill of Montgomery County placed second with a 618, and Mount Hebron came in third with a 638. Liberty (640) finished fourth; C.M. Wright (653) claimed sixth; and defending champion Dulaney (676) took eighth.

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