LAUREL — After grinding her way through the back nine and racking up what she called an "ugly 46," Seeley-Swan resident Helene Michael used two things to buoy her game as she turned the corner — the camaraderie of her playing partners, and a little bit of Swedish.
"I wasn't hitting the fairway, so I just said a few words to myself in Swedish," laughed Michael, who speaks the Nordic language fluently. "I said, 'Listen, you know how to play this game. So just relax and swing like you do on the driving range.' "
Her unconventional approach had some merit, as she went on to shoot a 39 on the front nine, grabbing a tournament-leading two-day tally of 165 and a three-stroke advantage in the second round of the senior division at the 100th Montana State Women's Golf Association tournament at Laurel Golf Club on Friday.
Tied for second is first-round leader Sue Matson and Bobbie Lacklen, each with a 168. Susan Court remains in third with a 169.
In the amateur division, two-time Class AA State champion and University of Montana golfer Teigan Avery — the first golfer to enter the centennial tournament this year — moved to the top of the leader board, shooting a one-over-par 76 aided by a trio of birdies.
Montana State Billings sophomore golfer and Broadwater High School graduate Anna DeMars, who took fourth after the opening round, slid into second place, posting a four-over-par 76.
Thursday's amateur leader, Kyla Clancy, fell to third with an eight-over-par 80, settling for eight bogeys. Jackie Mee, who sat in third place after the first day, tumbled into a three-way tie for sixth.
For Michael, a member at Double Arrow Golf Course, her turnaround on the front nine — which included two birdies and fours pars — began with fine-tuning her drives.
"I just couldn't hit the fairway on the back nine," she said. "My driver and 3-wood that worked like a charm yesterday, left the building. I was underneath trees all day. I have no idea what happened but those were my troubles."
She elected to set the driver aside for a while.
"It started with my 3-wood after I left the driver in the bag," said Michael. "Then I started slowing down my swing and that made the difference. But my putting game wasn't too bad today."
While Michael's short game was a favorable, it was Matson's Achilles heel, causing her to bogey or double-bogey 14 holes and end the second round 10 strokes higher than the first.
Her disappointing day was salvaged slightly by a dazzling 30-yard birdie on the par five No. 9 that she chipped in from the sloped rough at the base of the green.
"I was just thinking 'chip and get it close so I can get par,'" she said with a smirk and shrug. "It was sheer luck. All I thought about was soft hands and keeping my eye on the ball and it just rolled in."
Heading into the final round, three strokes stand between the top three seniors and six strokes separate the top three in the amateur field.
With a chance to capture the senior championship on Saturday, Michael is focused on blocking out all distractions and focusing on her game.
"When I play I'm the only one on the course, it's just me," she said. "I don't worry about my score. I hit one shot at a time. My mind is gonna be on having a good swing and a good shot, one at a time."