MOUNT MORRIS – When the cat stepped away, the mouse could play.
The cat in this case is Ember Schuldt, who had won eight consecutive Women's Lincoln Highway golf tournaments, from 2006-2013, before not playing this year.
The mouse is Ruth Heal, who used that opening to post a milestone victory in this year's event, which concluded Saturday at Sunset Golf Course. She also led Kishwaukee Country Club to the team title.
Heal finished with a best-against-bogey score of +23 to edge midway leader Alina Llanas by three. It was the 21st time Heal, 69, earned medalist honors in her 47th appearance. She has also won in five different decades.
"It's always been, 'Oh my God, if I could in five decades, that would really be something,' but that wasn't going to happen with Ember around," Heal said. "It just means a lot to me."
Llanas, playing for Timber Creek in her first tourney appearance, and Heal were both at +20 through 31 holes when the key sequence happened on the par-5 14th.
The long-hitting Llanas, who plays golf at McKendree University in Lebanon, near St. Louis, hit a driver on the hole, which has a pond as its main defense. There is a narrow strip of land to the left of the pond, but Llanas, a lefty, hooked the ball into the water.
In the first round on Saturday, Llanas also hit driver and narrowly missed the landing area left of the pond, putting the ball into a stream. She took a penalty stroke, but was still able to make a par.
"It was like 'go big or go home,'" Llanas said of twice hitting driver.
The club selection was a surprise to her playing partners.
"Salley [Wessels], Jacki [Johnson] and I were like, 'She doesn't need to do that,'" Heal said. "I guess it was just a youth thing. There was no advantage."
Now hitting her third shot from short of the pond, Llanas topped a 3-wood and again found the water. She noted that was the key mistake on the hole she eventually made an eight.
"I know the smart play should have been the hybrid [from the fairway]," Llanas said.
Heal made a birdie on the hole go move her best-against-bogey score to +21, but gave Llanas an opening by making a double bogey on the par-3 15th hole to drop to +20. Llanas, however, 3-putted for bogey from about 30 feet to remain at +19.
On No. 16, a short hole over a ravine, Heal hit her tee shot long and left, and faced a tricky chip to a perched green. Llanas, meanwhile, was just short of the green, with a much easier chip.
Heal bumped her chip shot into a steep slope, and the ball trickled to within 12 feet of the cup. Llanas, meanwhile, chipped up to about 6 feet.
Heal curled in her putt for an unlikely par, while Llanas missed hers, putting Heal into a commanding position.
"That putt was huge there," Heal said.
Heal got plusses on the final two holes, while Llanas got one on No. 17 to account for the final margin.
"I was just trying to not be a bozo out there," Heal said with a smile. "I was trying to make plusses so our team would win."
Kishwaukee did just that with a team score of +65, well ahead of runner-up Sunset, which came in at +46. Sunset had been within five (+32 to +27) at the beginning of the second round.
"We're very, very pleased," said Sunset's Cheryl Satterfield, who finished at +10 and also won the Charm Gilbert Sportsmanship Award. "Everybody pulled together and did very well."
Kishwaukee has now won the event five consecutive years. Heal, Bobbie Cesarek (+16) and Joan Burger (+10) were the only veterans in the lineup, while the rest were either first- or second-year players.
"Other than me, Bobbie and Joan, we had pretty much newbie people," Heal said. "You don't know how they're going to react, especially playing on a different course. I'm just proud of them for hanging in there and doing this. It's a team event."
Top 3 teams
1. Kishwaukee +65
2. Sunset +46
3. Timber Creek +38