It was probably reasonable to wonder if Rylea Marcum would have to shake off some rust at this week’s 94th Women’s Kentucky State Amateur.
A star at both county high schools, Marcum’s recent tournament schedule has been thinner than at any other stage of her development after her collegiate career took an early detour.
The competition might walk away wondering what it would have been like dealing with the Eastern Kentucky University rising sophomore in midseason form after she won the title at University of Louisville Club in Simpsonville.
Marcum beat a pair of University of Kentucky competitors Wednesday, Sarah Fite in the semifinals and Sarah Shipley in the championship, to lock up the three-day, match play event.
“This feels great,” Marcum said in a press release. “This was only my second tournament of the year, since the NCAA denied my eligibility in the spring, so it was good to be back out and competing.”
Shortly after enrolling at Western Kentucky University and establishing herself immediately — a second-place finish with a score of 5-under 211 in her debut at the USA Intercollegiate in Mobile, Alabama, followed by Conference USA golfer of the week laurels — Marcum declared her intentions to transfer.
With her appeal for immediate eligibility denied, Marcum could only watch and practice for the remainder of her freshman campaign.
That didn’t stop her from out-dueling a talent-laden field of her peers and rivals in her return, with a dramatic flourish at the end.
Marcum took an early two-hole advantage in the title match before Shipley, a fifth-year senior at UK, squared it just before the turn.
Both players made eight pars against a single bogey on the back nine, but it was Marcum’s short putt on No. 18 that forced a playoff. After matching pars on the first extra hole, Marcum cashed in a par to counter Shipley’s bogey at the second to put it away.
“Sarah Shipley is a really good player and forced me to play a good match out there,” Marcum said. “I ended up having to make some putts and keep my focus.”
Marcum entered the women’s showcase having left no crown jewel unturned in her youth.
She became the first player in state history to win every age group of the state junior girls’ amateur, capped by a 2018 championship flight victory on her home course, Cherry Blossom.
In addition to a pair of third place finishes in the KHSAA individual championships, Marcum led Scott County to its best-ever team finish of second. Marcum graduated from Great Crossing in 2020.
National and international credits included multiple appearances in the USGA and PGA Junior Championships. She played four times in the prestigious North & South Junior Championship, with a best finish of fourth.
At the peak of her junior career, Marcum was ranked among the top 25 players nationally in her high school class.
And last summer she won the American Junior Golf Association Justin Thomas Junior Championship, its namesake another Kentucky-raised star.
Having spent most of a year out of that rhythm, Marcum admitted to her fair share of nerves under Wednesday’s bluebird skies and sunshine.
“My dad (Shane) was super helpful throughout the day, assuring me I was doing the right things and getting me through a day where I certainly felt a lot of nerves,” she said.
Top-seeded Marcum breezed through Monday’s opening matches, knocking out Grace Bryant 7 and 6 and Caroline McCrorey 4 and 3.
Tuesday’s quarterfinal win was more of a test, 1-up over Molly Bebelaar.
Both finalists breezed to victory in their twin 8 a.m. semifinal matches. Marcum made quick work of Fite, a familiar face from KHSAA region tournaments past, 6 and 4, while Shipley squelched Ryan Bender, 6 and 5.
Bender, a UK junior, recorded a hole-in-one in her quarterfinal match.
“I am so blessed to be the 2021 Kentucky Women’s State Amateur champion,” Marcum posted on Facebook. “This week has been incredible, and I am very honored to have my name on such a historic trophy.”
Four different EKU golfers have won the title a total of six times in the past 13 summers.
April Emerson was a three-time champion in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Becky Sharpe (2015) and Elsa Moberly (2016) reigned back-to-back.
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.