A few weeks back, I spent a Sunday morning sitting on my couch watching a field of the world’s best golfers try in vain to keep up with Rory McIlroy. They seemed basically in awe of this prodigy, watching him run away with the British Open title. Fast forward six hours and I began to know how they felt.
The stakes were much smaller, but like those I had watched on TV earlier, I found there was little I could do to keep up with a prodigy splitting fairways and tossing darts on the greens.
There was nothing to hang my head about; there’s no shame in getting beat by the best golfer in Ohio.
I’ll admit I wasn’t fully serious when the question was first raised nearly two years ago. Makayla Dull, then a sophomore at Lakota High School, was preparing to make her second trip to the state golf tournament in Columbus.
I sat with her for about 10 minutes or so talking mainly about her coming back from major knee surgery, and being able to overcome her injury to once again qualify for state. To end the interview on an upbeat note, I simply threw the question out there: “If we played nine holes, how many shots do you think you would beat me by?”
Almost two years and one state championship later, we decided to find out.
I know my limitations on a golf course – and trust me, there are many. I had no illusions I could possibly beat her. But the flip was I would be able to use this as a chance to get an up-close look at what makes the Raider senior so good.
The first thing I noticed when we teed off at Sycamore Hills was that the approach Dull takes to the game reminded me a lot of when I saw a PGA practice round earlier this year. She took time for the little things, such as watching my putts to gain the line and figuring out the distance for each club. She keeps stats on her fairways hit, greens in regulation and putts, so she knows which areas of her game she needs to work on.
As we began our round, she told me her putting could use a bit of work. So, when I saw her roll in a 20-foot long birdie putt on the second hole, I knew it could be a long afternoon.
My one claim to fame on the day came on the next hole. No. 3 was a dogleg-right, and we each tried cutting the corner and found ourselves in the water.
I was able to recover and bogey the hole while she had her only three-putt of the day. And after three holes, I was even with a state champion.
That didn’t last.
Things started to unravel for me on the next hole, a rather straight but long par-4. My drive was good; my next shot, however, turned into the first, but not the last time on the day, I had to go to the gallery following our match, and assure them I wasn’t aiming for them.
Dull took back the lead and never looked back.
Getting warmed up
A note to any Sandusky River League golfer, or anyone who goes up against Dull at an invitational, if you’re going to beat her, you better build a good lead early. Once she gets warmed up, she’s tough to beat. She closed out the round with four straight pars, hitting each fairway and three of the four greens in regulation. The green she missed was on No. 18 where a chip and a putt saved par.
As for me, well, the only stat I would’ve won was most trees hit. In fact, on No. 6 I rattled a couple shots off trees and after three shots, I still didn’t reach her drive.
Her game just kept getting better as we went on. Long drive went right in the middle of the fairway, which were normally followed by iron shots right on the green.
As good as her game was, one of the things that struck me about what possibly makes her so good of a golfer is what happens when she’s not on the course.
Dull comes from a strong family background. That gallery that I kept hitting toward was made up of her father, sister and grandparents out to watch her play an exhibition round. After our match, it was the rest of the family taking the course for a round together.
It was clear that she has a strong, built-in support system. So it didn’t come as a shock when she said she made her college choice based on the school that seemed to have the best family atmosphere.
In a year’s time, Dull will tee it up for University of Akron. She chose that school over Bowling Green and Butler for more reasons that simply golf. She said her future Zip teammates provided a stronger group and a more positive atmosphere than some of the other teams in the running.
More than just a golfer
Dull spends a lot of time on the golf course. A lot of time is spent working on her game, getting it to a state championship level. But one of the reasons it can get to that level is the fact that there is still time spent not on the course.
I’ve seen a lot of star athletes at the high school level burn out from simply living and breathing their sport. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with Dull. She finds time in between rounds to catch Orange is the new Black on Netflix. She even took a few suggestions from me on shows to check out next.
There’s more to her than just a terrific golfer. She’s also a terrific student and still a typical high school girl who likes to spend time with her boyfriend, go shopping and watch movies.
Even when it comes to golf, it’s not serious all the time. She does admit that around this time of year, it’s mostly all business. If she’s not at a junior tournament, she’s out practicing for her next one, or the upcoming varsity season. But, there is still plenty of time, mostly in the early part of the season, for her to simply go out and enjoy a round a golf for the pure fun of the game.
There are the days when she can just go and play without worrying about scores or technique, though she said it does take some work to show her baseball-playing boyfriend a golf swing and baseball swing are different things.
The final hole
We approached the 18th green, neither of us sure where our golf balls where. Hers was just short of a creek in some thick rough. Mine, well, I don’t think I ever did find it.
She got herself out of trouble, chipping on the green and making the putt for a par and a round of 39. I dropped, hit over the green, chipped back to nearly off the green before finally getting it in for seven and a round of 54. I’ll take a 15-shot loss to the state’s best golfer.
So the day went pretty much as I expected. I was soundly defeated, but got a closer look at what makes Makayla Dull the best in the state and found out there’s more to her than just a golfer.
And now, years into the future when she’s possibly on TV winning LPGA events, I can point and say I won one hole off her. But, yeah, she still kicked my butt.