Every year since she began her high school golf career, Pilgrim’s Susie Cavanagh has steadily improved. In her senior year, that improvement was on full display, and it nearly propelled her to a state championship.
Instead, Cavanagh had to settle for second, as she fired an 86 in Monday’s girls’ state golf tournament at Point Judith Country Club, finishing only behind playing partner Nicole Scola, a junior at Prout, who fired an 84.
Scola won the tournament for the third time in as many years.
But it was another step for Cavanagh, albeit one step shy of her ultimate goal. As a freshman, she rarely broke 100, and as a sophomore she rarely broke 90. Last year, as a junior, she broke onto the scene with a third-place finish at states before her runner-up finish this year continued her gradual ascent to becoming one of Rhode Island’s best.
“My goal is to get better each year,” Cavanagh said on Wednesday. “Obviously the ultimate goal is to win, but I’m pleased that I made steps all year. I don’t know what I shot freshman year. I don’t know if I broke 100. The next year I shot in the 90’s. I consistently moved up. I’m happy with how I played.”
Cavanagh and Scola’s scores were uncharacteristically high for the two golfers, but it was due in no small part to the conditions at Point Judith. On a rainy, windy day, only four players in the field even broke 90. La Salle’s Bridget Hagerty and South Kingstown’s Mia Bartolotta tied for third place with matching 89’s.
“The conditions were god-awful,” Pilgrim head coach Owen Paquet said. “There was sand and water even on some greens out there. The Point Judith superintendent told me that they weren’t even letting members out for the day. It was definitely a very challenging day.”
Cavanagh and Scola were both members of the final group, and it became apparent fairly early on that it was going to be a two-girl race for the trophy.
At the turn, Cavanagh held a one-stroke lead after carding a 45, but it would have been a three-stroke advantage if not for a two-stroke penalty that she received on the ninth tee.
Cavanagah was penalized for accidentally teeing her ball up in front of the tee markers, keeping Scola within the one stroke.
“I wasn’t really thinking,” Cavanagh said. “I put my tee down. Something you do a thousand times – put your tee in the ground. I didn’t even think about it.”
Yet, what could have been a crippling blow to Cavanagh’s confidence – and her playing – didn’t have much effect. Instead, she focused only on what she could control going forward.
“I was obviously upset, but I knew that being more upset wasn’t going to help me at all,” Cavanagh said. “I had to try to make up for it after that.”
And she did, taking a one-stroke lead all the way into the 15th hole.
Unfortunately for Cavanagh, she struggled to a double-bogey on 15, while Scola parred. That flipped the score in favor of Scola, who took her own one-stroke lead into the final three holes.
“I had a mental error on 15,” Cavanagh said. “I just sort of lost my flow and doubled it. That ended up being the difference.”
From there, Scola kept Cavanagh at bay, as the Prout standout’s back-nine 38 was the low nine on the day.
Cavanagh tried to get back into it, as she lipped out a putt on 17 and missed a birdie attempt at 18, but it was simply not to be.
“Susie is an unbelievable competitor,” Paquet said. “Her resilience to bounce back after that (penalty), I’ve never seen anything like that. Her mental state is strong. She can bounce back. There’s nothing that will upset her. She’s very steady on the golf course at all times.”
Afterwards, Cavanagh was disappointed, and pointed to the two-stroke penalty on nine and the double-bogey on 15 as the two portions of the round she’d like to have back.
But she wasn’t disappointed with the effort, or the resilience she showed time and again on the biggest stage.
“I could have lost my whole round (after the penalty), but I’m glad I kept it together,” Cavanagh said. “The mental error on 15, that wasn’t because of that. I was definitely pleased with how I handled it. It could have been a lot worse.”
The tournament marked the end of Cavanagh’s high school career in Rhode Island, but she still has one more tournament to play in high school.
She qualified for the New England Regional tournament, which will be held in Keene, N.H. on June 17. A season ago, Cavanagh finished in sixth place at the event.
Once that’s over, Paquet will bid goodbye to one of the best players in the school’s recent history.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching her,” Paquet said. “She’s such a pleasant player to deal with. Everyone that knows her respects her. They would love to have her as a golf partner. She’s just a doer. She loves the process, she has unbelievable etiquette of the game, she’s very unselfish and her demeanor is far above her age in high school.”
Cavanagh wasn’t the only girl from Warwick competing in the state tournament on Monday, as Pilgrim’s Casey McCormick and Toll Gate’s Rachel Willett and Abby Ellis were also in the field.
Besides Cavanagh, McCormick was the next-best finisher, as her 101 tied her for 10th. Willett finished in 19th with a 111 and Ellis was 24th with a 119.