The Rams finished third as a team last season.
Will this year be the year?
The Riverview High girls golf team is looking to maximize its potential and bring home a state championship. It already boasts an individual state champion — junior Jacqueline Putrino — but now the team as a whole wants one of its own.
Senior Aaron Whitley thinks it can happen.
Whitley said she's happy with her own game as the postseason approaches, beginning Oct. 12. She busted a short slump with a six-stroke victory Sept. 5-7 at the Florida Junior Tour's major tournament at Ocala's Stone Creek Golf Club, shooting a 54-hole total of 11-under-par. She also finished second (one under par; 71) Oct. 5 at the 2020 Donald Ross Invitational at Sara Bay Country Club.
"I think I just got tired of not playing up to what I could be," Whitley said.
Whitley said she pushed herself to practice more, focusing on course management and avoiding mistakes brought on by aggressive play. Most of the time, Whitley said, playing for fairways is safer (and smarter) than trying something reckless.
Alongside Whitley is Putrino, who finished third at the Donald Ross Invitational (76), and junior Rachel Carlson, who finished fourth (77). But Riverview's secret weapon is their fourth player, freshman Alana Kutt.
At last year's state tournament at Mission Inn Resort and Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Whitley, Putrino and Carlson all finished in the top-20 individual scores, but the team's fourth and fifth golfers finished outside the top 70. (Five golfers play, but the top-four scores are counted.) As a result, the Rams finished third as a team, 28 strokes behind winner Jupiter High, which placed all four of its golfers in the top 16.
Whitley said Kutt brings a positive energy to the team, always keeping the other golfers upbeat, and she can bring it on the course when it is needed. Whitley said Kutt has had the low score at a few events this season, a good sign that she has the composure for states. Kutt finished seventh at the Donald Ross Invitational (83) and has won big non-scholastic tournaments in the past.
With any team in contention for a state title also comes internal competition for the individual title. Putrino won it last season, shooting eight under par to take the title by three strokes. But Whitley was not far behind, shooting one under par and finishing tied for fifth, and this year was named the team's No. 1 golfer. That internal competition should make the event all the more exciting — and all the better for the Rams' finish.
Whitley said playing golf has felt nice, even in a pandemic. Outside of some matches getting rescheduled or canceled, things have felt fairly normal. It's not exactly how she imagined her senior season, she said, but she'll take it.
If that season ends with a team golf title? Even better.
"Everyone is feeling confident," Whitley said. "We have been able to overcome everything so far. I'm happy about that."
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.