A small army of North Area standouts marched deep into west Kern County on Tuesday, through the sagebrush and past the oil rigs, before finding a sudden spread of green called Buena Vista Golf Course where they attempted to conquer a petite 15-year-old from Stockdale High.
“I like pressure — I live for pressure,” sophomore Lexi Keene said, without a blink, after firing par 72 to beat Clovis West four-year starter Katie Horsford by three strokes for the Central Section Individual Tournament title.
On a spectacular 65-degree, wind-free day that saw only seven golfers in a 59-player field break 80, the former dancer never slipped over par.
“As a dancer, you practice for months and months and months for that one show when everyone’s watching —that’s your time,” said Keene (pronounced Keen). “So I work and play in a lot of (golf) tournaments, and when it gets to these big ones, it’s my time. I live for moments like this.”
Eleven other qualifiers from the section final will join her, in addition to complete teams from Clovis West and Buchanan, at the Southern California Regional on Nov. 13 at Arrowhead Country Club in San Bernardino.
They include Lemoore’s Dani Kinder (third, 77); four of the best from the section’s preeminent league, the Tri-River Athletic Conference, in Horsford, TRAC Player of the Year Hayden Mammen (seventh, 79) and Tammy Lim (fourth, 78) of Clovis and Clovis West freshman Madison Nii (ninth, 80); and County/Metro Athletic Conference champion Claire Malley (12th, 81) of Bullard.
But they couldn’t run down Keene, the tournament favorite combining skill and her familiarity with the 5,529-yard course. She described it as an ornery, deceptive venue that “will eat you up if you don’t pay attention and stay within yourself.”
Horsford, starting on hole 9 in the shotgun start, was in contention at par 36 at her halfway point. But she then found herself in a chase for Keene after bogeying hole Nos. 1-2-3.
“The greens were kind of tough, running out a lot,” said Horsford, who contributed to three section team champions (2011, ’13, ’14) in her career. “I’d think I barely hit it and it would roll 10 feet past. Then, when I thought I adjusted, the greens on the front were slower and it took a while to adjust again.”
Making adjustments while achieving at elite levels has been a way of life in the Keene family.
Lexi Keene’s older brother, Bryce, was a 2011 section boys runner-up, who’s about to graduate early from the Naval Academy.
He was a straight-A student in high school, and so is his sister, already a two-time Southwest Yosemite League champion, who tied for fifth in the section tournament as a freshman.
“Our kids are self-motivated; they’re driven,” said Carey Keene, their mother and wife to Jim Keene, Stockdale’s former golf coach and now athletic director. “We just expect their best and we’ve been fortunate their best happens to be up there.”
She raised her right hand above her head.
Others could only raise theirs and salute her daughter, who hopes to attend Stanford and, in fact, used a Cardinal ball-marker Tuesday.
CENTRAL SECTION INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONSHIP
Tuesday at Taft’s Buena Vista Golf Course (par 72)
*1. Lexi Keene, Stockdale, 72
#2. Katie Horsford, Clovis West, 75
*3. Dani Kinder, Lemoore, 77
*4. Tammy Lim, Clovis North, 78
*5. Taytlyn Alvarez, Liberty-Bakersfield, 78
*6. Jessica Park, Stockdale, 79
*7. Hayden Mammen, Clovis, 79
#8. Hannah Lovering, Buchanan, 80
#9. Madison Nii, Clovis West, 80
*10. Vanessa Watkins, Highland, 81
*11. Jessica Rudd, Yosemite, 81
*12. Claire Malley, Bullard, 81
*Hannah Price, Mission Oak, 81
*Kelsi Stieler, Yosemite, 82
*Janette Chhuon-Chan, East, 82
#Aya Enkoji, Clovis West, 82
#Allyson Musser, Clovis West, 82
Sophia Stetson, Redwood, 83
Madi Daniel, Bakersfield Christian, 83
Brandi Borjorn, Centennial, 84
Laurynn Maiocco, Bakersfield, 84
Allie Wilson, Stockdale, 84
Carly Trujillo, Redwood, 84
Brook Baumgardner, Monache, 85
McKenzi Stan, Liberty-Bakersfield, 85
#Marissa McCardell, Buchanan, 85
Misha Vega, Porterville, 85
Kaleigh Irey, Frontier, 88
Liz Randles, Edison, 91
Claire Oetinger, Yosemite, 91
Joclynn Ransom, Mt. Whitney, 91
Emily Bailey, Frontier, 91
Maddy Laval, Memorial, 92
Sienna Dimauro, Central, 92
Jamie Byerlee, Redwood, 92
Macey Mills, Liberty-Bakersfield, 92
#Brooke Ayerza, Buchanan, 93
Valentina Fontes, Edison, 94
Rachel Telfer, Madera, 95
Sarah Hensley, Redwood, 96
KK Cain, Clovis, 97
Allyssa Geiger, Madera, 97
Auyanna Barrios, Lemoore, 98
Jayda Olaes, Lemoore, 99
Bailey Margosian, Monache, 99
Vanessa Lopez, Hanford, 99
Allie Crawley, Garces, 100
Lauren Costa, Reedley, 100
Sami Flynn, Porterville, 101
Caitlyn Figura, Central, 102
Elizabeth Nakagawa, Highland, 102
Demi Danell, Central Valley Christian, 103
Hallie Gonzalez, Sangere, 104
Melissa Salinas, Central, 106
Madison McCarthy, Tulare Western, 112
Adraina Rubio, Kerman, 113
Alysa Dominguez, Wasco, 116
Gabby Cabrera, Liberty-Madera Ranchos, 118
Karly Nelson, Hanford, 130
-- Qualified for Southern California Regional on Nov. 13 at Arrowhead Country Club in San Bernardino
# -- Qualified for SoCal Regional with team.