Wampus Cat blue to Wildcat blue

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Casey Ott won’t have to change the color scheme in her closet when she makes the transition from high school to college golf.

Ott, the defending Arkansas High School Overall champion for the Conway Lady Cats and winner of the 2016 Arkansas Women’s Golf Association junior championship, has committed to the Kentucky Wildcats.

“I don’t know if it’s coincidental at all, but she’s going to continue to be a cat, and her colors will still be blue and white,” said CHS coach Janet Taylor.

Ott, just a junior, is a two-time defending 7A-Central conference medalist and all-state performer. She finished runner-up in the Class 7A State Tournament last year to qualify for the Overall and led her team to its fourth state runner-up finish.

“She’s had a phenomenal career at Conway High School,” Taylor said. “All the way back to Mary Michael (Maggio, who played at LSU and Texas A&M) and then Summar (Roachell, a senior at Arkansas) and now with Casey, they’ve just all fed off each other and follow each other. That’s been neat to watch over the years.

“It’s fun for me as a coach to have those types of players.”

Taylor said golfers usually commit to their college choices earlier than most other athletes.

Ott made her decision in late June, a couple of weeks before turning 16. She won’t sign until next fall.

“I really love the coaches,” she said of the Kentucky program. “I really like the atmosphere they have there. They have really great facilities. I love how Kentucky loves sports. I love their basketball team, love watching Kentucky basketball.

“I just felt like that was where God was leading me.”

She said she actually was a bit of a late commitment.

“I know girls going into ninth grade who have already committed to colleges,” she said. “(Kentucky) started recruiting me in February. I got to go on a visit, and I really felt like that was for me.”

She said she also visited Arkansas and Ole Miss during the spring.

“Obviously when you decide, you have to compare,” she said. “All the SEC schools have great facilities and campuses. I just felt like Kentucky was where my heart was leading me. It felt like that was where I was supposed to go.”

Ott had other success in the Bluegrass State in April. She tied for fourth in the American Junior Golf Association’s Justin Thomas Junior Championship at the University of Louisville Golf Club, carding 76-76-74—226.

In July, she shot 70-69-69—208 at Conway’s Centennial Valley to win the AWGA Junior title by six strokes. She qualified for her first United States Girls’ Junior Championship at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., but she failed to make the cut there after shooting 79-85—164, 12-over-par, in qualifying.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “I was pretty disappointed in how it turned out, but I’m pretty excited for next summer.”

In August, she tied for second (71-72-73—216) at the AJGA’s Bass Pro Shops/Payne Stewart Junior Championship at Buffalo Ridge Springs Golf Course in Hollister, Mo.

On the Arkansas State Golf Association junior circuit, she won the Shadow Valley Junior Championship (81-74—155) and finished fifth in the Arkansas Junior Amateur Championship at Pleasant Valley Country Club (83-80—163).

Ott said making her college decision had allowed her to relax a bit.

“That was a stressful time for me, and to come to a decision and know that’s where I’m supposed to be, I’m really relieved to be decided and so excited to be going there,” she said.

This fall, she’s playing No. 1 for the Lady Cats. Her goals are to win state individually and as a team.

“We’ve got five girls this year, which is the fewest we’ve ever had,” Taylor said. “Casey is such a good role model. They all get along, and we hope we can feed on that.”

Ott, a 4.0 student, said she would take a competitive break after the high school season before resuming tournament play in 2017.

“I’ll keep working out, going to school and keeping the grades up,” she said of her plans for the interim, adding that she thought she would study accounting or maybe sports medicine or physical therapy at UK.

Taylor said she thought Kentucky would be a good fit for Ott.

“She’s going to be a great college player wherever she chose to go,” Taylor said. “She’s the type of athlete who’s going to work hard and excel wherever she is. The SEC has great competition and tradition, and I think the coaches had a tremendous interest in her. I feel like she’s going to contribute right away.

“She is happy with her decision, and I am thrilled to death for her.”

It almost seems like it was meant to be.

“Wampus Cat blue, Wildcat blue,” Ott said. “There will always be a connection there.”