Williams leads an Alexandria girls golf team on a quest for its first 1A-5A state title since 2008 — her first year in the lineup — when the 36-hole event tees off today at the Robert Trent Jones Trail’s Grand National facility in Opelika.
Williams was an eighth-grader in 2008 when the Valley Cubs won the state title by three shots at The Shoals. Her teams have returned every year since but have yet to recapture the magic of that 2008 win she called “the greatest thing in my life.”
“Nothing would be better (to win it again),” she said. “Win it the first year and the last year … it would be awesome.”
The competition will be stiff.
Hartselle has won the title each of the last three years and is heavily favored this year. Alexandria posted its best state tournament round ever in the first round last year and was still five shots back at the end of the day, eventually finishing a distant second.
In the three years since their win, the Valley Cubs have finished fifth, fourth and second. Hartselle has been so strong, the state’s golf coaches are expected to make a proposal this week to give the 5A schools a separate division of their own.
“It’s going to be tough to beat them,” Alexandria coach Brenard Howard said. “Right now, they are the best team in the state in any class. We’ll be disappointed if we finish worse than second.”
Williams will be joined in the quest by Jordan Gregoria, Courtney Randle and Jessica Howard.
Williams is a different golfer than she was the last time the Valley Cubs won the state. Her stroke average has improved, she’s a lot more aggressive and, most recently, has gone to a new piece of equipment.
For the last month or so she has ditched the conventional putter for a belly putter.
“I wasn’t putting my best with (the other one),” she said. “The line on it was hard to line up. It worked for me in my tenth grade when I won two or three tournaments, but I felt I needed something I could get over the ball more. I just needed a change.
“I started practicing with this one and just stuck to it. I went through like every putter there is. This one is working.”
Some may question the wisdom of making such a seemingly drastic change at this most crucial point in the season, but you can’t argue with her results with the belly putter in the bag.
She was the medalist at the Calhoun County Girls Tournament, was third in the section tournament and won the sub-state.
“You can always putt better, but I’m rolling it really good,” she said. “It’s a good putter. I feel pretty confident with it. That’s what it’s all about in anything you’re using.”
It takes 36 holes to win the state championship. Williams had it going for 33 holes last year. She held the first-round individual lead after a 74 and was going well until she got to 16 in the final round. She came up short on her approach, found the bunker and took three to get out.
She shot 81 and finished fourth.
“I’m going to try to not let that happen,” she said.
Williams isn’t the only Alexandria player looking to win a state title.
Long-hitting sophomore Cole McNeal was the low individual at the substate, missing the overall medalist by a stroke. He’ll be joined in the Boys 4A field by junior teammate Dalton Chandler.
“I could have played a lot better,” McNeal said. “If I play really good both days, there’s a real good chance I could win. I’m to the point where I’m getting about as high as I can be right now. The little things have got to go right.”
McNeal’s weapon of choice is the driver and when the big stick is on, he’s formidable. When the driver gets away, as it did three times on the back nine in the final round of the County Tournament, it can cause problems. He launched driver 13 times in the substate; the only time he didn’t, he made bogey.
“I’ve told them all year they’re as good as anybody they play against,” Howard said. “It’s course management (that gets them) most of the time.
“Cole and Dalton hit the ball as good as anybody I’ve seen in high school, but you have to play the course that’s there; you can’t make your own. They have great chances to win. They shot 71, 72 on a course in Montgomery they only played once.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.