FLANDERS _ Stephanie Hopton sensed her daughter, Carley, was stressing in the days and hours leading up to the Morris County Girls Golf Tournament.
"I think Carley felt the pressure of what people were expecting from her," Stephanie Hopton said. "She didn't want to mess up."
Madison assistant coach Erik Lih knew Hopton was concerned about trying to repeat. Lih could tell by her demeanor on the putting green prior to the second annual competition on Flanders Valley's White Course. Hopton was very, very quiet and worried that everyone was zeroed in on her. She mentioned she was nervous.
The 16-year-old Hopton wasn't thrilled with her start, carding a bogey, par then another bogey over the first three holes.
After that, Hopton forgot about the eyes upon her and was more herself, shooting a 38 to take the MCT championship on Wednesday, May 7. Hopton finished six strokes ahead of runner-up Jess Barry, the Chatham sophomore who carded a 44. Barry's teammate, Meghan Gyves, a senior, took third with a 45.
"I had to focus on my game and no one else's," said Hopton, whose nine-hole round featured birdies on the fifth and sixth holes.
Hopton, a junior, said that defending her title "felt good" and that she played "pretty well." Her showing actually was quite impressive. Hopton's drives were solid, traveling about 230 yards, and her irons were accurate, resulting in some good approach shots.
"My round was a little up and down," Hopton said. "I had a lot of confidence in my irons and was able to get the ball on the green."
On the par-4 fifth hole, Hopton used a 50-degree wedge to land on the green from 97 yards out. She sank a five-foot putt for birdie. The sixth hole, also a par 4, was similar except that she holed a seven-foot putt.
Since last summer, Hopton has improved her game in many areas, most notably her short game. She works under the direction of Jason Carbone at Baltusrol and Mark Wood at Fiddler's Elbow. Her intention is to play in college.
Hopton has carded 18-hole scores of 76 twice this spring, at High Bridge and at Copper Hill in the Red Devil Tournament.
"Every year, Carly drops a few strokes," Lih said. "She puts in the time. You can see the dedication she has to the sport. She's honored to be the back-to-back champion. She got the nerves out over the first three holes today."
In March, when snow covered the Dodgers' home course, Madison Golf Club, Hopton made the 45-minute drive to Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Somerset County so that she could prepare for the spring and summer. She traveled to Florida, too.
Hopton didn't forget the people who have backed her since she began playing golf.
"My coaches, my swing coaches, my siblings, mom and dad and my team have been so supportive," she said. "Mom and dad drive me everywhere."
Barry had an adventurous round but recovered well enough and often enough to be in contention. Her teammates from the undefeated Chatham squad, Katie Howard Johnson and Sarah Ethridge, were unable to take part in the MCT because they were taking AP exams.
On the first hole, a par 4, Barry had an eight, certainly not a solid opening. She righted her game and penciled in birdies on the fourth and fifth holes.
"I definitely could've taken off a lot of strokes," said Barry, a field hockey player and indoor track athlete. "I kept putting balls in the water."
Her rocky beginning did not get in her head. On the first hole, Barry hit a 225-yard drive. However, it was to the right and near a tree. She hit her second shot into a tree and it landed in a stream. After taking a drop, she hit a pin-high shot a little left. It hit the ground, bounced and came to rest 30 yards from the green. Barry chipped on and three-putted.
"I figured from then on, I had to focus on one shot at a time," Barry said. "I had to try and par and concentrate on putts and chips. I had to throw out the first hole and pretend that I didn't play it."
The strategy worked. Barry was relatively steady the rest of her round, which featured exceptional approach shots and on-target putts. On No. 5, she was in the rough and got her approach shot within six inches of the hole.
"That built up my confidence," she said. "I'm happy it all worked out. I still could've been better."
Gyves' round was marred by "tough lies and unlucky shots."
"I did pretty well," said Gyves, whose best nine-hole score this spring was 43. "I had a few things go wrong. I was most happy with my drives and putting."
Her big triumph for the day? On the par-5 eighth hole, Gyves successfully hit out of a hazard and made par.
Montville's Nicole Cheng (46) took fourth place on a match of cards. Rianna Quioque of Park Regional fired a 46 as well and was fifth. Stacy Wang of Montville and Christina Diabo of Morris Knolls had 47s.
Completing the first 10 were Erica Adel of Montville, McKenzie Gaw of Kinnelon and Julia Purdy of Mendham.
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