Without a team and without a coach, Katie King spent a large portion of her high school career walking the region’s golf courses alone.
She was an individual playing amongst other teams with no one but her father, who was as much a chaperone as a coach, there with her. King, a senior, was a lonely player in an even lonelier game.
The three-time Telegram All-Area Girls’ Golfer of the Year played as an individual at Tarboro for three straight years, making the state tournament and improving her finish every year.
She watched teams celebrate together and pick up each other, something she hoped she could have done.
Next year will be different.
“It’s going to be kind of lonely next year,” said King, who finished tied for sixth at the NCHSAA 1-A/2-A state championship.
Every year King, who averaged a 78 this season, has added something to her game. As a sophomore, she played alone for the first time after playing on the Tarboro boys’ team as a freshman, gaining a competitive drive in the process.
As a junior, she became more methodical, planning out the strategy of her shots through every hole.
This year, she relaxed, and on the final holes at the state championship, she even chatted up a few of her competitors during lulls – something she wouldn’t have done before.
“I wanted to leave this place saying that I tried my best, and I had fun,” King said. “I wasn’t really serious about anything.”
Golf might have found its place in King’s life as well. After practicing nearly every day this summer, King fell into a different rhythm once school started. She’s the editor of the yearbook, and soon enough, college applications took their toll on her time. Golf became kind of an afterthought. It was just something else she did, even if she still was one of the better players in the state.
“It’s not really less serious,” said King, who doesn’t plan on playing varsity golf in college. “It’s just more go with the flow.”
Her dad, Jimmie, noticed the difference the whole year but more so on the final day of the state championship.
“I can certainly tell you at the regionals and state championships, she wasn’t as uptight,” Jimmie King said. “She seemed to be enjoying herself more, and that was good. At the same time, she was playing better.”
When Katie King took it easier on herself for bad shots – something that is usually best for golfers anyway –her play improved.
She struggled at regionals, posting the highest score of her individual golfing career, but she improved her finish – and score – at the state tournament.
“I love playing golf,” Katie King said. “... I am going to miss it. If I could play another year, I would.”
King always has benefitted from the help of her family. Her freshman season at Tarboro was saved when her older sister Maggie volunteered to be the team’s final member without ever having picked up a club before.
For the past three years, her father – and coach – has followed her around the courses.
Jimmie King has had to re-arrange his work schedule and even used vacation to pick up his daughter early from school to play in golf tournaments around the region.
“I’ve been able to watch every stroke,” Jimmie King said. “It (has) been a real pleasure to watch her grow.”
Katie King worried about her dad’s loneliness once she leaves for college because now, Jimmie King, who works as a financial analyst, will have to find something else to fill his time.
He’ll have some time off from golf – a little like his daughter.
“I’m going to have some extra vacation, too,” Jimmie King said with a laugh.
Katie King, Sr., Tarboro: In her third season as the Telegram’s All-Area Golfer of the Year, King made the NCHSAA 1-A/2-A state tournament for the third straight year – finishing in a career-best sixth place. She posted a 78 stroke average this year.
Alexis Barrett, Jr., Southern Nash: Barrett led the Firebirds from the top of the lineup this year, but she missed out on qualifying for the NCHSAA 3-A state championship as an individual by one stroke.
Leah Hobgood, Jr., SouthWest Edgecombe: Hobgood qualified for the state championship for the second consecutive season. She improved her score by 13 strokes from the previous year with a pair 97s.
Sara Joyner, So., Nash Central: Joyner made the state championship for the first time in her career after shooting a 104 at the NCHSAA 3-A East Regional.
Ali Martin, Sr., Rocky Mount: Martin tied Joyner at the East Regional tournament and made the state championship, where she finished with the third-lowest score from the Big East Conference – a two-day 201.
Hannah Sasser, So., Nash Central: Sasser created a potent duo with teammate Joyner. Sasser missed out on the state championship this year but qualified for the regional tournament as an individual.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org