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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Bentonville girls golfer, Lilly Thomas, tees off during a golf tournament, Thursday, September 6, 2018 at the Bella Vista Country Club in Bella Vista. Bentonville girls golfer, Lilly Thomas, who is one of the leaders on the defending state championship team, recently became a verbal commitment to Tulsa.

BELLA VISTA -- Before Lilly Thomas began her golf match last week at Fayetteville Country Club, she had only been on the course one other time as a spectator.

The Bentonville High senior did a little early pre-match preparation, then she went on to shoot the best nine-hole performance of her high school career at the time with a 3-under 33 and led the Lady Tigers to a 119 team score, their lowest of the season to that point.

At A Glance

LILLY THOMAS

SCHOOL Bentonville High

CLASS Senior

HEIGHT 5-10

NOTABLE Played her first two years of high school golf before transferring to Bentonville. … Led the Lady Tigers to the first state golf title in school history when she shot a two-day total of 158 and finished third as an individual. … Shot a personal-best 3-under 33 during a nine-hole match last week at Fayetteville Country Club, then followed that with a 5-under 31 the next day at Bella Vista Country Club in a match where she missed two other birdie putts that could have put her below 30. … Verbally committed to Tulsa after receiving an offer from new coach Annie Young and will sign a national letter of intent with the Golden Hurricane in November.

"I looked at the course on Google maps, and I also called my strength coach Adam Taylor, who I know plays there a lot," Thomas said. "I knew I didn't have to try to overpower it, like hitting my driver on every tee box. I only hit the driver on the two par-5s, and I knew I had to keep my ball in play on a shorter course."

"I didn't hit one overall bad shot that I didn't have to dwell on, so I didn't have to get stuck dwelling in the past. I did hit some shots I was not happy with, but I dealt with the situation and kept going."

The match was played on the course's front nine, but Thomas started on the par-3 No. 9. She hit par on her first four holes before she birdied the 250-yard, par-4 No. 4 with a 10-foot putt, then she added another birdie on the 409-yard, par-5 No. 5 after missing an eagle putt.

She closed out the match on No. 8 with her third birdie despite hitting a tree limb with her tee shot. The ball dropped directly down, then she dropped her second shot within 2 feet of the hole for the easy birdie.

"Her course management is so good," Bentonville coach Lindsey Davis said. "You can see her mind working when she steps on the tee box. When she gets up there, she's focused and her decision-making skills are really good.

"On one of those par-3s, I noticed she had the distance, and she knew the distance. The green was sloping from right to left, and she knew she wasn't going to hit her ball on the left side. I knew she was aiming for the top right of the green and let it slope down, and that's exactly what she did. It was a beautiful shot."

Thomas joined Bentonville's girls golf team last year after playing her first two seasons at Heber Springs and led the Lady Tigers to their first state title in school history. Thomas finished third overall with her two-day total of 158, but she was unhappy her second-day performance -- particularly a bogey-bogey-triple bogey finish.

She spent much of her time during the offseason working on her short game, especially anything close to the green and on the green. It not only improved her game, but it caught the attention of new Tulsa coach Annie Young -- who gave Thomas an offer that she accepted.

"In high school golf, we play shorter yardages," Thomas said. "So I have to work on shots 100 yards and in a lot more than I do during summer play. I had been working all summer to stay within par, maybe go under if I needed to. The goal is pretty much to get one birdie over every six holes.

"It was a lucky coincidence for me that at U.S. Open Women's qualifier event in Kansas City, I was playing with one of the Tulsa players, Taylor Dobson. The new coach at Tulsa had just accepted the job the week before the tournament and hadn't met her new players. Luckily, I played well that day and caught the coach's attention."

Meanwhile, Thomas' good fortunes have continued. She dropped her personal-best score even lower when she shot a 5-under 31 during Bentonville's match against Siloam Springs at Bella Vista Country Club and helped the Lady Tigers trim their season-best team score to 116.

Thomas played the back nine and started with a birdie, then eagled the par-5 No. 12 before she had another birdie on the following hole. She added a chip for birdie on No. 17, then just missed birdie putts on Nos. 16 and 18 that could have put her below a 30 score.

"Lilly's leadership skills and decision-making skills have increased immensely," Davis said. "This year, she's also taking on the role of the leader and helping out with several of our new freshman players. She's shown them the way."

NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Bentonville High School golfer Lilly Thomas reacts after a shot during a golf tournament, Sept. 6 at the Bella Vista Country Club in Bella Vista.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Bentonville girls golfer, Lilly Thomas, lines her putt during a golf tournament, Thursday, September 6, 2018 at the Bella Vista Country Club in Bella Vista.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Bentonville girls golfer, Lilly Thomas, talks to girls golf coach Lindsey Davis (right) during a golf tournament, Thursday, September 6, 2018 at the Bella Vista Country Club in Bella Vista.

Sports on 09/13/2018

Print Headline: PREP GOLF: Bentonville's Thomas on course for great season

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