PRAIRIE GROVE — When Crystal Lake Central co-op golfer Lexi Harkins turned in her scorecard, Tigers coach Kathy Speaker took one glance, smiled and began to laugh.
Harkins shot a 1-over-par 74 at the Class 2A Prairie Ridge Regional at Prairie Isle, which was good enough for a share of the individual regional title with teammate Larisa Luloff. A winner must be determined in a regional and the two teammates trotted out to the first hole for a playoff.
"It was pretty exciting going against a teammate," Harkins said. "It was kind of difficult, though, because you're rooting for them all the time and now you have to play against them."
Harkins, a senior and the Tigers' top golfer, would win the playoff after sinking an 8-foot birdie putt while Luloff settled for par on the par-5 465-yard hole. The two combined with Emily Jean (85) and Brianna DiGrazia (88) to post a 321, which was good enough to win the regional title. The Tigers were six strokes ahead of St. Charles North (327) and 17 ahead of Barrington (338). The three teams will advance to Monday's Class 2A Rockford Guilford Sectional at Ingersoll Golf Course.
It was not a surprise that Harkins, the area's top golfer, won the event but to have Luloff at the top bodes well for the Tigers. The team has aspirations of competing for a state title and Luloff's emergence was the result of a lot of hard work and continuous play over the summer in which she competed in 23 tournaments. This season marked the first season in which she was able to card rounds in the low 70s and worked her way to becoming the No. 2 golfer on a deep Tigers team.
It was a difficult road, however. Luloff began to show an interest in golf when she was 5 years old, but being left-handed made it tough to find clubs. She played travel softball until she was 12 before shifting her focus to golf, but she needed clubs. Her father, Al, was able to find a set of youth left-handed clubs at Nevada Bob's, a golf outlet store in Crystal Lake, before it went out of business.
"I never wanted to try and switch her to be right-handed," Al Luloff said.
Over the years, she has been forced to buy various clubs online and in shops that carry left-handed clubs. She also had to adjust to the way courses play which tend to favor right-handed players.
"I had to develop my swing and tweak it a bit," Luloff said. "It was weird to play at first, but then I got used to it. A lot of the holes go left and I just learned to deal with it."
While the Tigers were the only area team to advance out of the regional, six players from four teams will move on to Monday's sectional. Sophia Archos, Kenzie Mocogni and Emily Johnson will represent Marian Central. McHenry freshman Kailey Lindholm will advance while Prairie Ridge sends Brooke Johnson and Jacobs co-op sends Sydney Goll.
Being freshmen, Archos and Lindholm played in their first regional and handled the added pressure well. The two became friends around eight years ago when they played together in various McHenry County Junior Golf Association events, and they were paired in Wednesday's regional and both carded 89s.
"I was really excited coming in and I just wanted to do well," Archos said. "I was a little nervous but it subsided when I got out there and started playing."
Added Lindholm: "I was really nervous because I was a freshman and I was so worried about doing my best. Having Sophia in my group helped and we kind of fed off each other once it got going."