hen the pairings were announced for the 2014 First Region Girls Golf Tournament, there was a certain aura that it would be one to remember. Intrigue was at an abundance, as three future Southeastern Conference golfers were paired together one last time.
Marshall County's Cayce Hendrickson and Calloway County's Anna Hack had already won region before, and Hack state. Both were seniors and were looking for a way to further cement their legacy, along with Paducah Tilghman's Teri Doss, who was looking to make her move to the top of the region as a junior.
An eagle on 18 propelled Doss to a playoff, which she won to claim the region title. For Doss, it meant sharing the same glory that Hendrickson and Hack had in previous years. The win also marked the beginning of state stardom for Doss, who won her own state title the next year.
But that 2014 Region Tournament is where her name grew.
"Knowing that not only did I win, but I beat two incredible players was a really nice feeling," Doss said. "Three SEC players in the same group Ã¢ Â¦ that in itself is an accomplishment. No matter if you're first or third, there isn't a bad player. It was fun to play with them."
Doss is underway in her freshman year at Mississippi State, while Hendrickson is a sophomore at Missouri and Hack a sophomore at Kentucky. They're all enjoying personal successes, much like Emma Talley did before them.
Before the recent First Region star trio amazed onlookers with their swings, Talley was doing the same -- inspiring many along the way. A three-time state champion at Caldwell County, Talley was and still is a major influence to the area's golfers.
"She was so good and everybody looked up to her," Hack said. "When I started playing, I didn't know anything about golf and she took me under her arm. She helped me out and told me what tournaments to go into to get better."
Hack certainly got better, winning her state title in 2012 right after Talley had departed for the University of Alabama.
More so than just her fine-tuned golf game, Talley had a certain attitude and demeanor that were such admirable traits, said Hendrickson. And because of what Talley accomplished while at Caldwell and later at Alabama, expectations for First Region golf continued to rise.
"After seeing what Emma accomplished and what she did, it motivated a lot of the girls in the region to do what she did," Hendrickson said.
When Talley graduated, it left the door open for a new star to emerge in the First Region. But there wasn't just one this time, as a slew of golfers took turns vouching for the honor.
Calloway's Madison Connell (now at South Alabama), Marshall's Bailey Tyree (now at Western Kentucky) and Murray senior Sarah McDowell all tried to stake their claim, but Hendrickson, Hack and Doss stood above the rest. They won the next three region championships after Talley's graduation -- fighting off one another to claim the titles.
They were friends off the course, but when playing their 18 holes -- it was a battle.
"I'm proud to be a part of this. All three of us worked hard and have loved each other and hated each other," Hack said. "It's a love-hate relationship. Everybody coming out of the region that has gone D-I, we have accomplished a lot and pushed each other. We know how hard each other works."
During the 2014 state tournament, the trio all finished in the top eight -- separated by two strokes of one another. It marked the end of the high school careers for Hack and Hendrickson, with Doss finishing out her high school career the next season with a state title.
Talley helped bring the First Region to star power, but Hendrickson, Doss and Hack helped sustain it. A girl from the First Region has now won the state title in six of the past eight years.
"She was so good and seemed so above the rest of us. We could be playing really decent for our age but we never thought we'd be as good as her," Doss said. "What Emma did is amazing and she is still an inspiration. It's nice to be mentioned with her."
Much like how Talley inspired a young group of golfers, the recent high school grads are doing the same with a new batch of up-and-comers. With a pedigree for First Region golf now set, there is reason to believe that it will only get better from here. You can thank Hendrickson, Doss and Hack for that.
"I think it's going to be a powerhouse in the next five, six years," Hendrickson said. "I think the teams from our region are going to be the teams to beat at state. I see girls like (Marshall's) Savannah Howell and Hallie Riley, the really younger ones have futures. It used to be one SEC golfer, and now it's three. It will keep growing. You will see five, 10 players competing for the regional championship.
"I think it's going to just keep getting better. I think everybody is continuing to work hard and golf continues to grow," Doss said. "With all of the camps and opportunities for kids to go off and play and there being so many ways to go about it. I believe we have helped lead the way to get people to understand what is out there because even we didn't know when we started."
"It's fun to represent Paducah and West Kentucky because no one really knows where it is," Hack said. "Even at (University of Kentucky), they don't think western Kentucky is on the map. It's fun to represent it and let people know that we have really good golf out here."
It didn't take long for Hack to shine in college, finishing as Kentucky's top golfer at last spring's SEC Tournament. She went on to play in the U.S. Women's Open during the summer.
Hendrickson played in three tournaments for Mizzou during her freshman year, while Doss is looking to make waves during her freshman year.
The trio said they still talk to one another, but friends could turn to foes pretty soon once the SEC schedule starts up. If their successes in Kentucky are any indication, the rest of the conference better watch out.
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