Tuscola golfer claims prestigious tournament title

Mar. 9—The high school girls' golf season ended in the fall, but for some golfers, that just means a short break before getting back into the action.

One such golfer is Tuscola junior McKenna Williams, who just earned a win in a prestigious golf tournament in south Georgia.

"In my personal opinion, it was the biggest win of McKenna's career," said Sean Williams, McKenna's dad and coach.

Williams won the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour's Sea Island Junior Classic on St. Simon's Island on Feb. 24 and 25.

"I really wanted to win this. I was confident, which was good. I really wanted to go out and beat all of my competition," McKenna Williams said. "I was nervous at first, but getting into it I started getting confident."

The tournament featured junior girls golfers from all around the southeastern United States.

"It's a very prestigious golf tour," Sean Williams said. "The competition is very stout. All the golfers who play in this tour are well-established golfers."

The tournament started strong for the junior, grabbing an opening hole birdie.

Sean Williams said that he told his daughter that a birdie would be a great way to set the tone on the first hole. Then, she went out and did it.

"She feeds off confidence, and you see great things come out," he said. "Her performance was rock solid."

On the second hole, McKenna Williams handed back the stroke she had gained and then some, carding a double bogey.

But she didn't let the slight misstep bring her game down.

"The birdie starting off was a really long putt," she said. "The bogey happened because of a little mistake, and I knew a little mistake wouldn't affect my game."

Having the double bogey early and then finishing out the round strong showed great mental confidence, Sean Williams said.

"When you saw that double [bogey] on hole number two and then the performance after that, you can see she's hit another area mentally and is excelling," he said. "She's getting on top of the mental side. I knew when she could handle that, things would really get good."

She finished out the first round with five birdies, a good mark for any golfer but especially a high school golfer.

"It's really big," McKenna Williams said. "Getting five birdies is huge. It helped out my score a lot. That day I could have been five under, but that double bogey hurt me."

A lot of the junior's work was done on the back nine. On the first day, she finished with a score of one under par. For the two days combined, she was three over par on the back nine — a mark tied for the best in the tournament.

Another challenge to overcome on day one was the heavy wind. Sean Williams said the sustained wind was between 20 and 30 mph.

"It's really difficult to play golf in the wind because your clubs get mixed up and you don't know what to hit," McKenna Williams said. "I still needed to hit pars to get my confidence."

And hit her pars she did. In total for the tournament, Williams tied for the most pars (26) and fewest bogeys (10). She also had the lead in birdies by herself with six in the tournament.

"She hit her driver very good, her irons were spot on and she got red hot with the putter," Sean Williams said.

Williams played particularly well on the short and long holes. On par three holes, she shot a combined three-under par. On par five holes, she shot a combined one-under par. Both were tournament-leading marks.

All of this came after a swing change following the high school season.

"The swing change has really helped everything in my game," McKenna Williams said. "It makes my shots way better. It gives me extra yardage."

Sean Williams said he had noticed something in her shot that needed to be adjusted near the end of the high school season, but with state approaching there wasn't any time to try and change what had been working.

Instead, the two began working on the change in November and used it in a tournament in Myrtle Beach in December.

"It was very great to see, but I give her all the props for working hard, overcoming adversity," Sean Williams said. "The adversity always swells before a big moment happens in any sport, especially golf. It's hard to stay with it because you put in all the practice and you don't see the results immediately."

He said he's noticed a clear change in results since the swing adjustment.

"In the last two months, her swing has taken a whole other bump in skill and power," he said.

When all was said and done, Williams was a stroke ahead of senior Ellie Jane Riner of Havana, Florida, who is signed to golf for the University of North Georgia.

"I want to take this tournament and know that I can win a golf tournament," McKenna Williams said. "It's been a while since I won one. It will keep my confidence up."

Williams will need that confidence with a busy slate upcoming throughout the spring and summer heading into her senior season of high school golf.

"She has a rigorous tournament schedule ahead of her," Sean Williams said. "The best is yet to come still. She's always been a force, but when you get a big win on a big course, it really sets you up to have that confidence."

She'll play every other weekend in a tournament with a one-week break in the summer for vacation, but that doesn't mean she won't golf at all.

"She won't be playing golf every day, but she'll be hitting balls a couple of days during that process," Sean Williams said. "It's in her blood. She's ready. She knows she's good. She knows she's going to be a big asset to a [college] team."