By SCOTT COTTOS
As she made the turn at last week’s Division II district girls golf tournament, Kyleigh Dull felt she needed to get her game in gear.
The Lakota freshman had taken 40 strokes — four over par — to cover the back nine at Sycamore Springs Golf Course in Arlington.
Thirty-five shots later, she had matched her lowest-ever competitive round with a 75 and owned a spot in the state tournament.
Following in the footsteps of her older sister, Makayla — and trying to create bigger footprints — Dull will tee off on No. 10 at 10:50 a.m. Friday to start the two-day state tournament at Ohio State’s par-70, 5,394-yard Gray Course in Columbus.
Knowing the front nine was the less-difficult side at Sycamore Springs, Dull, playing as an individual, calmly went to work while knowing that she had to finish among the four lowest scorers to gain a state bid.
Instead of stewing over her back-nine score, she did something about it.
“After shooting 40, I had that gut feeling that 80 wouldn’t get out and I had to get it together,” she said. “I had to play well on the second nine if I wanted to go to state. I was so determined on that second nine. I didn’t really have nerves. I had that more the first nine and I feel that’s part of the reason why I played badly.
“But, definitely on my second nine, I was like, ‘I want to go to state. I need to do this. I need to straighten everything out.’ I feel like I did that well.”
Indeed, she made three birdies on her way around the front side, and at the end her 75 trailed only the even-par 72 posted by Gibsonburg freshman Sydney Leyerle.
Being in rally mode wasn’t unfamiliar to Dull. She needed to pick things up after the turn to win the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division championship and to tie for second among district qualifying individuals in sectional play.
“What sets her apart from most high school golfers is her mental toughness — being able to get refocused and realize the big picture and come back,” Lakota coach Ty Ray said. “A lot of the conversations we have are, ‘You’re going to have opportunities. Let’s take one shot at a time’ — the old cliche of not thinking ahead of yourself.”
Dull began playing golf at about the time she was kindergartener, and she had a role model in the same house in her older sister. Makayla Dull, now a junior playing at the University of Akron, earned all-Ohio honors in each of her four years at Lakota and won the state individual title as a junior in 2013.
Kyleigh watched Makayla at state in three of the four years, including the year her sister won the state championship.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was really happy for her, but I was like, ‘That’s where I want to see myself someday,'” Kyleigh said. “I want to see that when I’m a junior or before I’m a junior or as fast as I can. … To see my sister do that, it just put so much inspiration into me.”
Makayla Dull was on hand to watch Kyleigh in the sectional at Fostoria Country Club and she plans to attend the state tournament.
“I see how she even has more dedication and a better work ethic than me,” said Makayla, who, like her sister, grew up playing in many summer tournaments. “That is one reason why I believe she will perform well at state, this year and the rest of the years to come.
“She is one of the most hard working and competitive people I know. I call her my mini-me because we are basically the same person on and off the course, but I see even more potential in her to excel better than I ever did. But no matter what happens, I will always be proud of her.”
Kyleigh Dull matched Makayla by qualifying for state as a freshman. Next up among her goals is to finish higher than the second-team all-Ohio status Makayla earned in her first year.
“I’m just trying to get first team and win if I have a really good (tournament),” she said. ” I’m just trying to do well. It’s my first time competing at state. I’m just trying to get used to it a little bit.”
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