By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Kelsey Murphy knew Saturday afternoon who she’d call first after the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final – her grandmother Erma Murphy, who introduced her to golf when she was 12.
The Plymouth senior just wasn’t sure which bit of history-making news she would share first. She might start with how the top-ranked Wildcats won their first MHSAA girls team title. Or lead off with how she battled through wind and rain to edge Utica’s Taylor Clark by a stroke for the individual title.
Most likely, it was all going to come out in one long sentence. There's just so much good news to share.
Plymouth – after finishing third in 2011 and coming into this weekend ranked No. 1 – shot a two-round 659 at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East to edge runner-up Farmington Hills Mercy by 11 strokes. Murphy shot a two-day 148, matching Clark’s 75 on Saturday to maintain a one-stroke lead from Friday’s first round.
"I’m extremely proud of my team. We worked so hard this year to get to where we are today,” Murphy said. “It’s the first state championship in Plymouth’s history in any sport, so we’re extremely proud to represent our school this way.”
All five of Plymouth’s players shot 183 or better for the weekend, with senior Sarah Thompson firing a 166 to miss the individual top 10 by five strokes. And the latter statement is all the more impressive considering seven of last season’s 10 were back for this Final.
Murphy had birdies on Nos. 11 and 16 on Saturday. Clark, who improved from tied for sixth last season to finish second, just missed a close putt on the 18th green that would’ve forced a tie-breaker.
“I knew they were going to be close because Taylor is such a great player and so is Tenley (Shield, of Grosse Pointe South, who finished fifth). So I knew we were going to have a shootout today, and we all had to play our best to see who would come out on top,” Murphy said.
Utica as a team was four strokes better than Friday and shot a 672 to finish third.
“I’m proud of where I’ve come in the last four years. But most of all, I’m proud of my team for getting here,” said Clark, who played in Utica’s top spot every year of high school. “This is our best finish in the history of our school, so I think we represented our district and our school well. A top-three finish is great here.”
Plymouth enjoyed the same last season, but wanted more – especially after how the 2011 Final finished up.
The Wildcats were in second place after that first round, but fell to third by the end of the weekend. Murphy led individually with four holes to play, but also finished third.
They also had to adjust to a quick switch right before the start of this season, after coach Chris Moore resigned after taking an assistant principal job. Dan Young, a teacher with Moore at Pioneer Middle School in Canton, stepped right in. He hadn’t coached golf before, but has plenty of experience leading teams – he’s coached boys basketball at Westland John Glenn for two decades.
Plymouth shot a 331 on Friday to lead by seven, then carded a 328 to finish the run.
“You can’t replace that (2011) experience. Obviously, we fed off that,” Young said. “We tried to keep things in perspective, tried to stay within ourselves and do our job and lay it all out there. I thought we could come back and play better than (Friday), and I think the girls felt they could play better than (Friday). So that was the goal.
“That (2011) experience grounded us the whole year. It really did.”
Holt junior Pader Her shot two strokes better to finish third individually with a 152. Brighton senior Hannah Pietila shot five strokes better to move up to fourth.
PHOTO: Plymouth's Kelsey Murphy digs a shot out of the sand during Saturday's final round of the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)