VERNON HILLS — In order to further her hopes for a Class AA state tournament appearance, Vernon Hills golfer Kari Lee left Illinois.
She didn’t go far, traveling just across the state line into Indiana. In June and July, Lee played in Mid-American Junior Golf Association tournaments. At Warren Golf Club in South Bend in June, Lee carded a 90 to finish in the top 20.
Lee said the experience taught her how to navigate challenging course layouts.
“Bunker play was a big thing,” Lee said. “The greens had more undulations and you have to read them carefully. I had to take more time on the greens and putting. It made me more precise and consistent.”
Those summer lessons are carrying over into Lee’s high school season. Her 91 at the North Suburban Conference tournament at Waukegan’s Bonnie Brook Golf Course on Sept. 30 was good for ninth place and one of the all-conference medals that go to the top 21.
On Oct. 2, two days after the conference tournament, the Cougars faced Deerfield in a dual meet. Lee shot a 39 at Deerfield Golf Club, finishing just before the course went dark.
“She did so hitting the fairway and having a great day around the greens,” Vernon Hills coach Jim Seward said.
The Cougars have won seven dual meets this season. Victories over Glenbrook South, Antioch, Lakes and Lake Forest — programs Vernon Hills has not consistently beaten — acted as catalysts for the team’s strong 2014 showing.
The dual meet win total is more than the previous two seasons combined. It couldn’t be done without depth up and down the roster.
Three other seniors — Mary Paulson, Kalina Yang and Fayth Kim — help form the team’s core. Paulson (96, 19th place) joined Lee and sophomore Faith Jung (88, fifth) as conference medalists.
“They had great days, put up good scores for our team,” Seward said.
Seward said this year’s group doesn’t have long drivers. Players are better suited to a shorter course where finesse is rewarded. That type of game fit the Cougars’ first state series course, Deerpath Golf Course in Lake Forest. The Cougars finished sixth at a regional there Wednesday, shooting 372 (Barrington won with a 359).
Jung (87) and Lee (88) advanced to the sectional round as individuals.
“Our kids hit it down the middle, chase it and use some strategic course management,” Seward said before the regional. “[Deerpath] is the kind of course our kids excel on.”
The track was familiar to Lee. She and her brother, Ethan, a freshman varsity player at Vernon Hills, play the course often.
“It’s like a second home to me,” Kari Lee said. “I know the front nine like the back of my hand.”
The sectional assignment is Bittersweet Golf Course in Gurnee. It’s more open than Deerpath, but it presents its own challenges. After a summer on the road, Kari Lee said she is ready.
“The courses [in Indiana] are much harder than we play for [high school],” she said. “They toughed me up. We beat teams this season we hadn’t beaten before. It lifted our spirits. There is a lot more purpose to our practices.”