Shulter masterful in clutch

AUBURN -- Julie Shutler battled the narrow fairways and tricky greens of Auburn Country Club for the duration of Monday afternoon's Sac-Joaquin Section Girls Golf Tournament.

And during the final holes, on the cusp of a top-five finish, the Sierra golfer fought the elements. A thunderstorm zoomed through the area as the tournament was winding up, dumping lots of rain in a short time while thunder pealed off the surrounding hilltops.

"I was putting, and all of a sudden the entire green was covered in hail," Shutler said. "You only have so much time, so I had to find the line through the ice."

She made it, and made several other big plays en route to a 4-over-par 77, good for third overall. Shutler was one of four Stanislaus District golfers to shoot an 81 or lower to advance to Monday's CIF Northern California Championships at Ripon's Spring Creek Country Club.

All four Monday qualifiers were District golfers, while all three qualifying teams were from the Section's northern half:

Bret Harte junior Kirsten Locke had the lowest score of all the local golfers. Her 76, which included birdies on Nos. 4 and 5, was one stroke off medalist Candace Chan of McClatchy.

Turlock High senior Emily Szabo, the Central California Conference champ, fired a 78 to palce third. She was the only CCC golfer to advance.

Johansen senior Allyssa Pena (81) tied with Woodland Christian's Chelsea Helget for the fourth and final NorCal berth. On the first playoff hole, a 345-yard par-4, Pena sank a 12-foot par putt while Helget's par attempt slid past the hole.

East Union had the highest local team finish. The VOL champ Lancers hadn't lost in a tournament or dual meet this season; their team score of 488 was good for fifth. EU junior Krysta Clark's 89 led the way.

Shutler said the biggest challenge was reading the undulating greens.

"It's like they were optical illusions," she said. "I'd read something uphill, and it was downhill. I made that putt through the hail, but I missed some putts that were closer than that."

She made up for her putting woes with nearly perfect fairway play. "It didn't seem like I had many pars," she said. "I had a lot of great holes ... and my share of bad ones."

Bret Harte's Locke really got going when she had consecutive birdies on holes 4 (a 427-yard par-5) and 5 (a 315-yard par-4).

"It was such a big momentum boost," she said. "Then I made that 60-foot putt on 9 that really got me going."

By that time she only had four holes left in her round.

"I was teeing off on 10, and thought, 'Just keep it together and you're going to NorCals,' " Locke said. She did, and she is.

Turlock's Szabo was the next golfer in with a 78.

"The greens were so fast and tricky," Szabo said. "But I was playing pretty well. We had rain, hail and lightning, but I just kept telling myself to maintain my focus. I did just enough."