ROCK FALLS – Things looked pretty familiar on the scoreboards of the 91st Women's Lincoln Highway Tournament at Rock River Golf and Pool on Friday afternoon.
There was seven-time defending champ Ember Schuldt of Emerald Hill, atop the individual standings with a +16 against bogey for her opening 18 holes.
And there sat Kishwaukee, perennial team champion, way out in front of the team standings with a +68 at the tournament's midway point.
But while Kish led by 21 points, Schuldt's lead was just two. Teammate Megan Vandersee was at +14, as were Kish's Connie and Taylor Ellett, who tee it up during the school year at Northern Illinois University.
"There are a lot of good golfers out here, so a tight leaderboard isn't out of the ordinary," Rock River's Deena Thatcher said. "You couldn't ask for a better field, or a better day to play, and the course was in gorgeous shape."
There were nine golfers in double-digits against bogey on Day 1, with four of them playing for Kish. Rock River was second with +47, with Emerald Hill hot on its heels at +45. Timber Creek rounded out the top four at +27.
Schuldt and Connie Ellett played in the first group with Thatcher, and the trio made it around the course in a little more than 3 hours. They combined for a score of +41, and all enjoyed the pairing.
Schuldt, playing in her ninth LHT, was thrilled to be back on the course where she spent much of her youth. Nerves weren't an issue, but the Illinois senior-to-be did have to settle down, as she was fired up to be paired with another Division I player in Ellett and an LHT veteran in Thatcher.
"I started kind of shaky; I think I had more adrenaline in my system than I thought I would," Schuldt said. "I grew up here [at Rock River], and it felt great to be back; I just love this course.
"I knew there would be some really good competition this year, and I'm happy with how I played. I made quite a few birdies, and those are big pluses in this format."
Connie Ellett stayed right with the seven-time winner in her first LHT experience. She quickly grasped the concept of the best-against-bogey format, and easily handled any pressure as the First Flight player on the team that wins nearly every year.
"It was a lot of fun, and all three of us played pretty good golf," said Ellett, a Hampshire product who will be a sophomore at NIU next fall. "I've played with Ember before, and Deena was great to play with, too.
"I realized right away that with the double-bogey holes, you don't have to worry about your score, and you don't have to panic if you hit a bad shot. You don't have to make up for anything, really, and I just looked at it like match play instead of stroke golf."
Thatcher, in her 18th LHT, finished at +11. While she wasn't pleased with a bogey-double bogey finish to her round thanks to a pair of shots in the water, she was happy with the way she played up to that point.
"I was proud that I kept up with the two young girls," Thatcher said. "I stayed right with them for 16 holes, and that's a good feeling. I teased them all day that if you put their ages together, they're still younger than me; it was hit and drag Deena for them."
While those three headed the First Flight, Ellett's older sister Taylor and Vandersee led the way in the Second Flight.
Also in her first LHT, Taylor Ellett's round was highlighted by an eagle at the second hole. She was just as fond of the scoring format as her sister, and found herself eagerly anticipating Saturday's second round.
"It's all about consistency," said the NIU junior-to-be. "When you have a good hole, you want to back it up with a couple more; when you have a bad hole, you don't have to get too worked up about it. The course was set up great for us, and I just played each hole as its own and didn't really worry about the big picture."
Vandersee, fresh off her graduation from Augustana, matched playing partner Taylor Ellett for 18 holes. Like her former Sterling High School teammate Schuldt, Rock River is where Vandersee got her start, and she quickly got into the groove of playing the shorter front nine and the longer back nine.
"I started lessons out here in middle school, and Ember and I have played out here a lot the last couple weeks," said Vandersee, who will teach and coach golf at Prophetstown High School this fall. "There were shots I wish I could get back ... but not very many."
Former Oregon Country Club player Patty Head paced Timber Creek with a +10, putting her fourth in the First Flight. In her 22nd LHT, Head grew up in Dixon and played for Dixon Country Club all through college. She moved back to Oregon in the mid-1990s after a decade in the Chicago suburbs, and has played on that team since 2000.
But with that course closing, she's back in the fold at Timber Creek. The veteran wasn't surprised at the strong scoring, and was happy with her double-digit day.
"Scrambling is always the key for me; It's always a wild ride," Head joked. "But I chipped and putted pretty well – to be honest, these small greens make it easier to putt – and the scores are what I expected."
Kishwaukee's Sue Ellett (Taylor and Connie's mom) and Rock River's Patti Simester (Deena Thatcher's mom) lead the Third Flight at +8. Kish's Ruth Heal (+9), Bobbie Cesarek (+12), Joan Burger (+7) and Debbie Schiavi (+11) lead flights 4, 5, 6 and 8, while Rock River's Sandi Ivey was at +5 to pace the Seventh Flight.
91st Women's Lincoln Highway Tournament
Top teams: 1. Kishwaukee +68; 2. Rock River +47; 3. Emerald Hill +45; 4. Timber Creek +27
Top individuals: 1. Ember Schuldt (EH) +16; 2. (tie) Connie Ellett (Kish), Taylor Ellett (Kish), Megan Vandersee (EH) +14
Up next: Second round, at Rock River Golf and Pool, with tee times starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday