MARION — Gracie James wasn’t feeling like a champion on Monday.
“Before this, I usually get myself really hyped up and confident beforehand, but I haven’t had a terrific (summer) season, so I was like for this one I’m going to think a little bit different. I didn’t feel as confident because I wasn’t playing the best,” the Pataskala resident said.
It wasn’t her first time competing in the Ohio Junior Girls Championship, the state’s oldest girls golf tournament which is under the umbrella of the Women’s Ohio State Golf Association and held annually at the Marion Country Club. In fact, she finished tied for fifth last summer with a 4-over-par 73-75 148.
“I definitely didn’t feel as confident compared to my other tournaments, but I just wanted to hold it together and not make any big mistakes,” she said.
That’s exactly what James did.
Maybe she didn’t feel like a champ on Monday, but that’s exactly what she became on Tuesday, winning the 47th annual event and adding her name to the venerable tournament’s lore that includes eventual LPGA pros and college standouts after finishing at even par 144.
“It is a very big accomplishment,” the Watkins Memorial senior said. “I honestly had no idea I would even get close. I was thinking about getting top 10 this week, and I’m surprised I won it because there are so many great players out here. A lot of my friends play out here. It’s great. I’m in shock.”
Solid rounds for James
On Monday, she played 16 holes brilliantly, posting no bogies and four birdies. However on the ninth hole and the 13th she scored 6 and 7 respectively for five-over-par on the two. Still, she managed to claim a piece of the lead after the first day with a 1-over-par 73.
“It was a pretty solid round. I just had two big mistakes, which I didn’t want to do this week, but I’ll take it,” she said.
James was tied at 73 with Meadow Tian, a sophomore at Olentangy, while one shot behind were six others with six more lurking two shots back.
“I was absolutely exhausted, and I got a lot of sleep,” she said of her Monday night’s rest. “I felt like I tried to focus a lot harder than anything else.”
Tian also said she had no trouble sleeping with the lead.
“I just try to play how I normally would,” Tian said.
On Monday, Tian was 1-under for the first nine holes and shot seven pars and two bogies on the backside to end with her 73. She tried to keep that same approach on Tuesday, but it was hard.
“I would say there were some small mistakes, but overall they were okay. I had some good shots and made some bad,” she said. “I started off good on the first hole, but after nine I started scrambling a little bit because I was 2-over after nine.”
Tian keeps it close
Tian closed with three birdies and five pars, but had a double bogey on the par-5 13th hole as she settled for twin 73s and a 2-over-par 146.
As for James, it was about preserving her spot on the leaderboard.
“Today I had a couple bogies and three birdies,” the winner said. “I played it very safe. I knew I had to play it safe and not make big mistakes to get me out of the lead. I tried not to think of the other players and to focus on myself. I told myself before every shot that this is about you. Don’t focus on anything else. You’ve got this. I hyped myself up. It was pretty solid play.”
She was solid and steady.
James posted two birdies and two bogies to end at even par 35 on the front nine. From there, it was all pars until a birdie on the 16th helped put her at ease coming home.
“On 16, I had a tap in for a birdie. I just felt safe,” James said. “I wanted to par 17 and 18, which I did. It was a big accomplishment when I did it on 18. I didn’t drop a putt all day. My longest putt all day was a five-footer and that was on 18. My putting wasn’t terrible, but nothing was dropping.”
James closed it out with a 73-71 144 for even par over two days.
Others earn trophies
The University of Findlay signee went to the OHSAA Division I girls golf state tournament as a sophomore, finishing tied for 11th two years ago. She failed to qualify for it last year by finishing tied for 12th at the district with a 78 despite averaging 71 strokes during her junior year.
“I’m excited, and this tournament gives me a lot of confidence going into my senior year and last year.”
With James winning the overall championship, also earning trophies in the 16-to-19 age group were Skylar Dean of Lewis Center at 148, Elizabeth Ryu of Dublin at 149 and McKenzie Miller of Hilliard at 150.
Tian headed the 14-to-15 age group, but taking the trophies in the division were Bella Anderson of Columbus at 150, Kristina Ma of Columbus at 151 and Elle Farrow of New Albany with a 154 to get third on a scorecard tie-breaker with Elizabeth Coleman of Medina.
In the 13-and-younger division, Jodie Han of Lewis Center won with a 155, while Ellie Gonzalez-Ribble of Brunswick had a 163 and Callie Reed of Fairview Park had a 169.
Locally, Pleasant senior Maura Murphy was tied for 27th with a 15-over-par 82-77 159, while recent Pleasant grad Dina Shah was tied for 31st with an 18-over-par 87-75 162.
There were 72 golfers in this year’s field, and the 48th Ohio Junior Girls Championship is slated for July 15 and 16, 2024, at Marion Country Club.
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: Pataskala’s Gracie James earns Ohio Junior Girls championship