By Ken MacLeod
Kaitlin Milligan birdied the first two holes and never looked back in a 4 and 2 victory Thursday over University of Oklahoma teammate Sydney Youngblood in the championship match of the 100th Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur Championship at Meadowbrook Country Club in Tulsa.
Milligan increased her lead to four up through eight holes after Youngblood bogeyed the par-4 seventh and par-3 eighth holes. Youngblood closed the gap to three when Milligan made her lone bogey on the par-3 11th.
Youngblood, a redshirt sophomore at OU, improved her ball striking considerably on the back nine, but could not get reasonable attempts at birdies to fall on holes 10 through 14. The only putt of any length she coaxed into the hole was a 15-foot par putt on the par-5 15th to extend the match, but Milligan closed it out with a birdie on the par-3 16th.
“I’ve been putting great this week and I knew if I just gave myself opportunities, I could get a few to go in and get back in the match,” Youngblood said. “But I just couldn’t get anything to drop. There were a couple out there that I thought were going in, the one on 14 in particular.”
“Both of us had some good opportunities today that we just missed,” Milligan said. “Hopefully we’ll get that ironed out before school starts.”
The two played a practice match before the tournament with a hope they might meet in the finals, with the rules being that they could take a club out of the other’s bag any time they won a hole.”
The two teammates have been friends since playing junior events together at age 12 or 13 and both have been working hard on mental and physical challenges to get to the point where they could meet in the finals of this match and look forward to leading OU to a great season in 2018-19.
Just last winter, persistent pain in her shoulder had Youngblood depressed and facing the possibility of life without even being able to play recreational let alone competitive golf. She and her family okayed a surgical procedure to remove a microscopic piece of her scapula to allow the AC joint to move freely and stop impinging on a nerve.
Doctors told it might work and might result in her never being able to swing a golf club again. The former four-time Class 5A state champion at Durant had the surgery in February and six weeks later was swinging pain free and had recovered nearly all her former distance.
“The surgery was one of those that they didn’t know if it would work or not,” Youngblood said. “But I looked at the doctors and said, ‘I need an option. I just need to have a chance to come back.’ Not having the opportunity to pursue my college career, or a professional career, it hurt me deeply. Golf has been such a big part of my life. I never went to prom in high school, I would be out watching Bedlam basketball. Golf and athletics has been an essential part of my life. I had to have a shot.”
Youngblood considers it a blessing from above that she was able to come back as quickly as she did, or at all.
“It was like I had taken a weekend off,” she said. “It was unbelievable.”
She asked OU coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell for an opportunity to go through qualifying to get back in the OU lineup, earned a spot and competed in the Big 12, NCAA Regional and NCAA Championships. Now she is working hard to build the muscle in her shoulder back, but says she is already 15 yards longer than prior to the injury.
Milligan has been working just as studiously on the mental side of her game, going through a program called Boost that teaches golfers to tune out negative thoughts and not allow a wayward shot or two to affect their mental outlook.
“They teach mental toughness and leadership,” Milligan said. “I’ve been working on certain things to keep me more mentally focused and relaxed during a round, and have to say I’ve been having a lot more fun since I started it. I have a whole new outlook on playing the game. I had become so worried about results that I wasn’t having any fun.
“This program teaches you how to win without having your A game all the time, and that was certainly the case this week. I didn’t always hit it like I wanted to or putt like I wanted to, but still was able to get the ball in the hole. It’s been a game changer for me.”
The former Class 6A champion at Norman North has effortless power, but has also been concentrating on improving her short wedge game to more fully take advantage of that length, rather than holding back to a distance requiring a full wedge to the green.
Milligan remembers hitting her knee with an iron shot in a junior event and Youngblood volunteering to push her cart for a few holes while the pain subsided. That was the beginning of a friendship that is stronger today and resulted in a championship match in which both players grinded over shots but otherwise laughed and joked together.
“Kaitlyn is one of the longest players I’ve ever seen and I knew she was playing well coming in,” Youngblood said. “I knew it was going to be difficult to play against her. But being teammates made it a great atmosphere.”
Milligan said she was proud to have her name on the WOGA trophy with the other top competitors in Oklahoma golf history.
With Youngblood pain free and swinging with assurance and Milligan’s improved mental outlook, Sooner opponents best be wary.
Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association
100th State Amateur Championship
Meadowbrook Country Club
July 23-26, 2018
Kaitlin Milligan, Norman, def. Sydney Youngblood, Durant, 4 & 2
Chrissy Bagwell, Edmond, def. Kelly Lewis, Shawnee 5 & 4
Presidents’s Division Consolation
Jill Johnson def. Teresa Delarzelere
Jan Fouke, Broken Arrow, def. Marsha Cooper, Tulsa, 3 & 2
A Flight Consolation
Marilyn Buland, Tulsa, def. Glynda Jones, Tulsa, 8 & 7
Diane Schmidt, Tulsa, def. Carol Carter, Tulsa, 4 & 3
B Flight Consolation
Kay Pickering, Tulsa, def. Judy Genzer, Tulsa, 3 & 1
Patty Monroe, Tulsa, def. Fran Derrick, Oklahoma City, 8 & 7
C Flight Consolation
Becky Masoner, Sand Springs, def. Rita Andersen, 9 & 7