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There was not much joy in Taylor Gillis' game Saturday.
At least there wasn't until someone reminded her about Joy.
Struggling more than a little bit with an uncharacteristic 6-over at the turn of the Joy of Golf Invitational – being played on her home course at Wild Turkey Trace, at that – Gillis got a little pep talk from someone closest to Joy Mountjoy.
“Diana Hill came up to me and told me Joy always had fun and that was what getting out here was about,” said Gillis, an Anderson County High School senior. “She said Joy always had fun.”
It is fitting that Gillis rediscovered that fun midway through a tournament named in honor of Joy Mountjoy, who passed away more than 15 years ago. Just have fun.
It wasn't easy for Gillis anyway, as she was paired with the cream of nearly 100 girls from around the state, including eventual tournament champion Ellen Kehoe, a seventh-grader from Taylor County.
Then to make matters worse, Gillis suffered what could have been a disaster on the second hole, which crosses the creek that meanders through the course. “I lost my ball. I lost it in a culvert,” she said.
A kid that qualified for the state tournament last year losing her ball on the second hole? Losing it on the course where she plays almost non-stop?
“I lost it in a culvert. That has never happened to me on this course,” Gillis smiled.
By the turn, that lost ball and other struggles had added up to a 41 on the par 35 front nine for a young lady that has gone from a novice to one of the area's best in four short years. It had not been fun, but Joy Mountjoy's daughter told Taylor Gillis to honor her mom simply by having fun.
“She was one of the first women to play golf at Bob-O-Link (the former name of Wild Turkey Trace), and oh, how she could play!” said Christy Glass, Joy Mountjoy's granddaughter, who was in attendance for Saturday's tournament. “I actually play with her golf clubs now, and you can imagine how old they are, but I just can't get rid of them. She loved the game almost as much as she loved her family, which was more than anything in the world. I never saw her get mad when she played, either.”
Gillis was certainly not mad, giving an enthusiastic wave and the familiar broad smile when she saw the local media – yours truly – getting in position to snap her picture on the eighth hole.
But it was obvious that something was not right when she grimaced after just missing a long putt.No matter how much she smiled, there was the look of frustration etched across her brow.
“I had not been playing with the ability I want to play,” Gillis said. “Mom and Dad (Laura and Ricky Gillis) were watching and they said, 'We still believe in you.'”
But only when the talented golfer did what Diana Hill told her, did Taylor Gillis show the mettle of a champion.
She just had fun, like Joy Mountjoy would have wanted.
Chrsty Glass could have shared some more about her grandmother with Gillis.
“She wanted everyone to learn the game, respect the game, know the rules and most importantly, to love the game,” Glass said. “She had so much patience when playing with someone like me, who was just starting out. It didn't matter that I was her granddaughter, she treated everyone like they were family.”
And even though Gillis never met Joy Mountjoy, she became part of that family Saturday.
Hill presented Gillis with a pendant Joy Mountjoy wore constandly. For the final nine holes, a golden golf bag hung around Taylor Gillis' neck.
“Diana shared this with me,” Gillis said. “She said it was something Joy wore every single day of her life.”
It would be hard to call the pendant a good luck charm after one tournament. But it is no coincidence that Taylor Gillis played a great back nine, going just one-over for the final nine holes. Despite the slow start, Gillis recovered to finish with a 78, good enough for fourth place in the tournament.
That's what fun on the links will do for you.
**The Anderson team finished with a 363, which would have been good enough for fifth place in the tournament but the Lady Bearcats were disqualified as a team after turning their score cards in. Gillis had led Anderson with a 78, followed by Kaitlyn Riley's 86. Kristi Bragg shoge a 85 while Courtney Turpin and Hayley Powell followed with a 104 and 107 respectively.
Franklin County won the team competition over Taylor County.
E-mail John Herndon at email@example.com.