Natural Talent: New Pal junior spending birthday at state

NEW PALESTINE — It was almost as if Mackenzi Black walked onto Edgewood Golf Course at last Saturday’s regional with something to prove.

In reality, though, only one thing truly crossed her mind. Black just played her game, and it’s taking the New Palestine junior back to the IHSAA Golf State Finals.

Surprisingly to Black, however, she won’t be with her teammates.

“You want your team to win,” Black noted humbly. “I thought if our team had a really good day, we might have a shot at advancing. But I wasn’t sure.”

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After firing a round of 76 in regional play — bum ankle and all — in Anderson, Black secured her spot at Carmel where she will blow out her 17th birthday candles this weekend to finish the 2016 season.

On Friday, Black’s birthday, golfers will begin to tee off at approximately 8:30 a.m. The same format will be used on Saturday as players will complete 36 holes.

Although Black has grown accustomed to being at the top of New Palestine’s scorecard, playing in either the No. 1 or No. 2 slot each season, she has always had someone to compete with and push her to new limits.

This time, though, she will need to look within for motivation.

Freshman year it was Abby Poole, who is now playing in college, that drove Black. Last season it was Cassie Rooks, who finished a fine four-year career for the Dragons. This season brought in rookie transfer Annaliese Fox from Triton Central.

“Abbey and Cassie never got upset when they were playing and were always calm,” Black said, who rarely gets rattled herself. “I don’t get that nervous because of playing during the summer. Before the regional I was, though. It was really important.”

Fox, who won county, conference and sectional titles this season, said she benefited greatly from having Black to compete against at practice. It was almost better than facing another opponent. Black certainly benefited, as well, even if reaching state as an individual was never the goal.

“The toughest rounds that we play is when we play someone that is nowhere near the level that we are,” New Palestine head coach Gregg Greene said. “When you play with someone that is good, it motivates you to play better. It’s like momentum in a basketball game.

“That’s what being a good teammate is, pushing them and yourself to get better.”

This weekend, the light will shine solely on Black. This is her time.

However, she won’t be the only one turning 17 this weekend. Black has two sisters, Alex and Lauren, and they are triplets. Both Alex and Lauren are cheerleaders, while Black takes after her father, Jeff, who played golf at Franklin College.

Lauren, who has Down’s syndrome, was one of Black’s biggest fans in Anderson last Saturday, walking the 18-hole course with nothing but a smile on her face.

“They didn’t really like (golf),” Black said, who remembers playing with her dad as early as 5.

Despite his love for the game, Jeff never pushed the sport upon his daughter. She fell in love with it all by herself. That passion has translated smoothly into skill. Black is clearly in her element on the course.

“He’s never been over the top,” Black said. “He really helps me with my game. It is nice to have him there. Lauren just likes to come to get food after. She looks up to us (Black and Alex).”

Playing on the Indiana Junior Golf Tour during the summer has helped, Black said, as well as making several friends along the way to share a day on the course with if she’s ever bored.

“My friends really motivate me,” Black said.

As a freshman, New Palestine advanced to the state finals and finished 12th overall. Black carded a 90 on the first day and tied for first on the team with Poole with a round of 88 on the second day. Last season at the regional, she fired an 82 and missed the cut by approximately seven strokes.

This year, though, Black used four birdies to top last her previous score by six strokes (74).

Prairie View, a course she knows well, is much more open compared to Edgewood, though.

“There are a lot more bunkers and trouble spots,” Black said.”But the fairways and greens are nice.”

Added Greene: “(Prairie View) won’t be too long. She is pretty long off the tee. It won’t be something she can’t do. The main thing around there, the greens can be tricky. If you get off line at all, you have a really tough shot to recover.”

Last season as a sophomore, Black won the Hancock County tournament. She’s also a stud in the classroom, sporting a 4.02 grade point average.

“(Mackenzi) is very driven,” Greene said.

On Tuesday, Black received a cortisone shot for her aforementioned injured ankle, which has been lingering since last season.

She hobbled around Edgewood with tape wrapped around her ankle all the way up above her sock. Greene believes the tape, which was applied by the school’s trainer, really made a difference in her swing. He even said it actually looked like the “real Mackenzi” out there playing.

“It seemed like she could keep her pace,” Greene said. “She understands her swing and what is going on with it better than most. When her foot was hurting, she was overcompensating. She wasn’t able to feel her swing as easy. (The tape) allowed her to relax and not chase anything.”

Regardless, it obviously wasn’t enough to keep her away from the season’s final tournament, and her talents might just take her on a similar path as her father’s.

Black, still with another year of high school left to complete, has received interest from Indiana University Southeast, among others.

“I really want to play in college,” she said. “Hopefully somewhere warmer.”

But first comes state.

On to State

Mackenzi Black, New Palestine

Class: Junior

GPA: 4.02

Regional Round: 76 (four birdies)

Family: Tracy and Jeff Black, sisters Alex and Lauren (triplets)

Favorite Food: Pizza

Favorite Athlete: Jordan Spieth

Favorite Club: Pitching wedge

Other: 2015 Hancock County Champion, 2014 state qualifier with team, Indiana Junior Golf Tour

Prairie View Golf Club: 7000 Longest Drive, Carmel, Ind. 46033

Tee Time: 8:39 a .m. (Day 1)

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or