By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The hardest-working athlete Dan Young has coached stuck around long after practices ended, perfecting shots often by the light of nearby street lamps.
The player was motivated by the chance to win the school’s first girls championship, and an individual title too after falling just short of both the year before.
It sounds like a scene out of a high school basketball movie, and Young has coached that sport at the prep and collegiate levels for 20 years.
But this fall he coached girls golf for the first time, and from senior Kelsey Murphy saw a drive like he’d never seen from one of his athletes before.
Motivated by just-misses from the season before, Murphy willed Plymouth to its first MHSAA team championship in any girls sport and claimed the individual title as well Oct. 19-20 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East.
“That means a lot, coming from him,” Murphy said. “Our team really made the push this year.
“My main goal for my season was to win the team championship. Winning the individual with this was just a little extra. … It was a nice extra.”
And an extra-nice comeback story.
Murphy gets a Second Half High 5 after making good on her hard work heading into this fall, and sticking it out when tough weather and tough putting threatened that individual opportunity again.
She shot a first-round 73 at the Final to lead by a stroke with one round left in her high school career. But Murphy started the second 18 with five bogeys – and it was hard to not consider the 2011 Final, when Murphy led with four holes to play before finishing third.
Meanwhile, her team led by seven strokes, a nice advantage but hardly comfortable.
“It was mainly putting, and I just went back to the basics. (I learned in 2011) to always make sure you finish the round; any stroke will matter,” Murphy said. “I didn’t used to finish out. I’d give up some strokes at the end. It’s just telling yourself to focus on the next shot. You have to hit every shot.”
Murphy fought back with two birdies during her final nine holes, and finished with a second-round 75 and a two-day 178 – good for the individual win by a stroke. And her Wildcats cut their collective score by three from the first day to win the team championship by 11.
Young told his players the night before the tournament’s start that they deserved to win because of the work they’d put into this season. And at the front of that effort was Murphy.
“I’ve never had somebody who works harder than this girl,” Young said. “We’d get to the range at 2:45 and leave at 6 o’clock, and she’d be there until 7 o’clock every single night. It would be dark, and she’d be using street lights to putt and chip.
“She was grinding it out, not leaving any stone unturned. And the thing about it is all the other girls felt they needed to stay too.”
Murphy averaged 36 strokes for nine-hole matches this fall and 74 for 18-hole events. Her second-most impressive win might have been Aug. 23 at the Highland Invitational at Heather Highlands Golf Club, where she shot a 69 to finish ahead of a strong field. Murphy also shot a 74 to win the Regional at Ypsilanti’s Pine View Golf Course by four strokes as her team won that title by 19.
Keep in mind that Murphy is a relative newcomer to the sport. She’s been playing for a little more than five years, picking up the clubs for the first time after a dislocated knee ended her swimming aspirations.
But with younger sister Sydney in tow – the sophomore shot a 173 at the Final – and their grandmother Emma showing them the ropes, Kelsey picked up her new sport quickly. She’s always been a long hitter and drives the ball 240 yards consistently. Her work on pitching has paid off over the last year, and next up is a focus on longer approaches.
The last 10 days have been a lot of fun for the Wildcats, who have continued to hang out together and were recognized during the football team’s playoff game Friday. Murphy will sign to continue her career at Eastern Michigan University and is among favorites to win the statewide Miss Golf award later this month.
That would be another "nice extra" touch to a finish she'll remember most because of how she ended it.
“I was able to keep my game and get it back on track. It’s the lasting impression, to show I can get my game back,” Murphy said. “I knew through other rounds I could do it. But it was just getting back mentally on track and doing it and being able to come through.”
PHOTO: Plymouth's Kelsey Murphy prepares to tee off during the second round of this month's MHSAA Division 1 Final at Forest Akers East. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com).