This was a career changer for Katie Horsford.
When she walked onto the 18th hole tee box as a 14-year-old freshman for Clovis West High on that Oct. 24 afternoon at Sunnyside Country Club in 2011, she had no answers for two questions:
• Would she play golf or water polo for the rest of her prep career? And, understand, doubt lingered about golf only a year after she shot a humbling 115 while new to the game in the Len Ross-Fresno City Junior Amateur at Fig Garden Golf Course: “No, I wasn’t very good.”
• And on this day as Clovis West’s sixth, and generally non-scoring, player at Sunnyside, she had no idea what impact she was about to have at the wire of the Central Section Team Championships.
The Golden Eagles were locked in a virtual tie with Stockdale for the Division I lead when Horsford whacked her drive on the 424-yard dogleg left par 5.
Soon after — with her teammates finished and observing in suspense, purposely about 40 yards off the green to lessen the pressure — Horsford left a 20-foot downhill putt a foot away from the jar, tapped in for par and Clovis West had a 2-stroke victory over the Mustangs.
“It was total exhilaration for the other girls,” coach Ken Shipley recalls.
It was a landmark day for Horsford, who would help lead the Eagles to two more team titles in her career, including this season, and today is The Bee’s Player of the Year in girls golf.
She recounts that day of transition: “I still wasn’t hooked on golf yet, I was still having doubts. But then the Valley championships sparked my interest, I kept getting better and better and kept going from there. That day I kind of felt like I finally contributed to something; my score (13-over 86) counted as a freshman toward a Valley championship. It was a feeling of accomplishment.”
That feeling would swell for a player who averaged 106 for 18 holes as a first-year player for Kastner Intermediate as an eighth-grader in 2010, but 76.9 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference and 78.8 overall this season as a senior.
Horsford, with a 3-over 75, placed second to Stockdale’s Lexi Keene (72) in the section individual finals at Taft’s Buena Vista Golf Course before she led all section representatives with a 2-over 74 at Arrowhead Country Club in San Bernardino in the Southern California Regional.
Her season included a rare experience for a section golfer when she teamed with pro partner Scott Elkington of Australia to tie for second in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
They led for much of the three-day, better ball format due in part to Horsford’s six birdies on day 2.
The tournament drew 81 amateurs nationally, a group that qualified through performance, community service and a written essay.
Horsford’s next step in golf is uncertain, though she’s determined to continue in college.
Shipley says this: “Katie was a very good water polo player who had a choice to make because the two sports are in the same season. She chose golf and we’re glad she did.”