BUTTE — Chasing down a state title that eluded her last year aside, Macee Greenwood is ultimately just grateful that she has another shot.
“I’m super thankful to be able to just be able to play and still have a season,” Greenwood said from the parking lot of the Butte Country Club after the first round of the State A golf tournament on a Thursday where teams were quickly departing the course immediately after turning in their scorecards, one of the numerous COVID-19 related modifications to this year's tournament.
“We’re super blessed to even have this gorgeous day, we were expecting snow and wind,” she added with a chuckle.
A week removed from winning the Western A divisional by a double-digit margin, the Corvallis junior carded a 75 — the only girl to break 80 — to take a five-stroke lead on the first day of the State A tournament and put herself in position to win the individual medal a year after settling for second.
“I definitely left some shots out there toward the end but overall I felt pretty good,” Greenwood said. “It was a mental game for me today.”
While Greenwood is in position to earn the girls individual gold medal, Laurel left little debate about why it is the two-time defending champions and left little doubt they’re planning on extending their streak into a three-peat.
Led by a 2-3-4 first-round finish from Alivia Webinger (80), defending medalist Hannah Adams (82) and Haylee Adams (84), the Locomotives posted a 338 to take a 57-stroke lead over Sidney. Laurel's Breana Jensen carded a 92 for eighth place to give the Locomotives four top 10 players.
The Eagles finished the first round at 395, paced by a fifth-place finish from Karly Volk, who shot an 88. The Livingston girls settled into third place with a 404.
Jim O’Neil, Laurel’s girls and boys golf coach, said that with the State A practice round canceled he and his team used Google Earth to print satellite images of every hole at the Butte Country Club, went to Old Works Golf Course on Wednesday and used the country club layout to simulate what they’d be facing on Thursday as best they could.
“We developed a game plan and the girls stuck to it,” O’Neil said. “They are tough girls. They all have their highs and lows but they’re awfully good about supporting each other. That’s the strength of this team.”
In the boys tournament, defending champion Carson Kahle of Whitefish and Laurel’s Carson Hackmann once again found themselves tied for the lead in the individual medal tournament. But neither was atop the leaderboard after Round 1.
Bulldog golfer Billy Smith shot a 70 to grab the lead against both Kahle and Hackmann, who settled into a second-place tie at 72 to help Whitefish grab the team lead with a 305. Billings Central’s Nick Pasquarello (77), who transferred from defending champion Laurel this season, and teammate Reese Jensen (78) are in fourth and fifth place.
The Laurel boys are the three-time defending champions but, unlike its counterparts on the girls team, extending the streak will be a challenge. Billings Central, last year's runnerup, grabbed second place with a 324 to take a four-stroke advantage over the Locomotives (328) to put Laurel 23 strokes back.
His team may be in the hunt for a title, but Rams coach Mark Hutchinson said it didn't come easy.
"It was tough out there today," Hutchinson said. "This is one of those courses where a practice round really would have mattered. Not having one was pretty disappointing."
The final round of the State A tournament, set to begin at 11 a.m. Friday, is sure to be filled with some tight finishes. But Hutchinson, like Greenwood, said the fact that a state tournament is even taking place is a victory in and of itself.
“At the end of the day, with all the rules that we may or may not like, we’re just really happy to be here," he said. "It gives us a sense of normalcy. The fact we can come out here and play golf and compete, it’s huge for these kids."