Monday, 21 October 2019 21:11

Miller impresses at 4A central regionals, punches return ticket to third NCHSAA state championship

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Senior Hailey Miller gets a tip from head coach Keith Parsons during Monday's NCHSAA 4A central regionals tournament. Senior Hailey Miller gets a tip from head coach Keith Parsons during Monday's NCHSAA 4A central regionals tournament. Kyle Pillar — The Richmond Observer.

PINEHURST — A handful of “really tough holes” didn’t shake the confidence of Hailey Miller on Monday, as the No. 1 Lady Raider golfer punched her return ticket to her third consecutive NCHSAA 4A state championship tournament.

The lone Richmond Senior High School golfer to qualify for the regional round, Miller and head coach Keith Parsons ventured to Pinehurst No. 7 for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 4A central regional tournament. 

Playing in a field of 48 golfers, Miller’s score of 94 (+22) was nine strokes below the cutline (103), as she finished 10th among individual golfers not on a qualifying team.

The rolling hills of Pinehurst No. 7 proved to be the toughest 18 holes of golf Miller and many of the other regional players have golfed this season. Narrow fairways and numerous out-of-bounds markers, elevated greens and several bottleneck approaches saw the field struggle all across the course. 

Although it wasn’t her best score of the season, Miller toughed it out down the stretch and will look to make a run at the individual state championship next week. Miller played in a group of three, swinging alongside Grimsley High School’s Caroline Witte and Middle Creek High School’s Mckenzie Crocker.

All golfers played from No. 7’s green tees for a total of 5,709 yards, which is significantly longer than what regular season matches play. 

Miller posted a 47 (+11) on both the front and back nine on Monday. She had seven total pars, seeing four of them come in the opening eight holes. She would begin with back-to-back pars on No. 1 (par five) and No. 2 (par four), and do the same on the back half, notching pars on No. 10 and No. 11 (both par fours). 

Her final par of the afternoon came on the par three No. 16, a downhill tee shot of 128 yards. She stuck her first shot on the front right fringe, just off the green, and saw her birdie putt attempt from 25 feet trickle just inches from the hole. 

On the afternoon, Miller recorded six birdie putt attempts. She also hit seven of the 14 fairways in regulation, while finding the green seven times in regulation, five of which came on the front nine. Also helping keep her score below the qualifying cutline were six bogeys.

“I normally start off pretty well on the front nine,” Miller explained. “And that’s how I played today until I got to No. 9. Everybody has those types of holes, but I was glad I was able to come back.

“Hitting back-to-back pars on No. 10 and No. 11 helped me get my confidence back,” she added. “My putting was definitely the best part of my game today. Once I got on the green, I knew that I could easily two-putt and save par.”

Miller putts during her regional round Monday, which she said was the strongest part of her game.

After recording pars on No. 1 and No. 2, the latter being the toughest hole on the course, which were putts inside two feet, Miller tacked on bogeys on No. 3 and No. 4. She went par, bogey, bogey, par on holes No. 5 through No. 8, draining par putts of a foot (No. 5) and an impressive seven feet (No. 8).

Entering No. 9, an uphill par three of 124 yards, Miller carried a score of 36 (+4). She had a tough couple of minutes, landing her tee shot in a greenside bunker and finishing with 10 strokes. At the turn, she had a score of 47 (+11).

She answered back on No. 10, a 316-yard par four. Her drive carried to 115 yards within the flagstick, but her second shot landed in a bunker left of the green. A nice out saw a 15-foot par putt attempt, which Miller banged into the cup, a moment she said helped her “keep my composure.” 

The second half of the course proved to be the most difficult for Miller, but she overcame a handful of bad tee shots and lateral hazards to save her spot in the 4A state championship.

“Hailey played the best she has all season and that’s what you want when it counts the most,” Parsons said. “She hit her driver the best she has all year and she hit putts. She played really, really well, especially after coming off a bad No. 9.

“Regaining her composure after that, she showed she could hit reset and still finish what she came here to do,” he added. “Hailey took that to heart, and she played a good back nine. That says more about her as a person than a golfer, which is something she’s shown all year.”

Parsons agreed with Miller, saying her putting was her best asset on the course Monday. He highlighted several of her putts, which were in and around five feet from the hole, and making those he said, “helped keep her round going.”

“She started off the season not playing the way she wanted, but now she’s going back to the state tournament after playing well on a really tough course,” Parsons closed of Miller’s efforts. “I’m really happy for her.”

Miller was also one of 10 Sandhills Athletic Conference golfers named to the 2019 All-SAC team. Joining Miller were: Madison Deese and Lauren Locklear (Purnell Swett High School), Makayla and Madison Daffin (Jack Britt High School), Mara Hirtle, Jaclyn Kenzel, Kitson O’Neal and Chloe Peters (Pinecrest High School) and Emily Daniels (Hoke County High School).

The NCHSAA 4A state championship will be held next Monday, Oct. 28, and Tuesday, Oct. 29, at Pinehurst No. 5. Miller and her fellow SAC golfers have already played that course twice this season, seeing Miller post her season-best score of 90.

At the time of publication, no seedings or tee times have been announced by the NCHSAA. Last year, Miller finished tied for 29th with a 36-hole score of 171 (+35). ROSports will update this article as new information becomes available.

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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