Laurel’s Morgan O’Neil claims four-shot victory

By: 
CHRIS MCCONNELL
Outlook staff writer
Outlook photo by Chris McConnell. Morgan O’Neil works on her swing at Laurel Golf Club a week after claiming a four-shot victory in the Barnett Memorial golf tournament at Missoula Country Club.
Photo courtesy of Chris Nowlen and MCC. Missoula Country Club Head Golf Professional Conner Sproull presents Morgan O’Neil with the 2017 Don Barnett Memorial Champion trophy.

Cynics in the golf world like to repeat the adage: “You’re only as good as your last tournament.” If that is true, then Laurel’s Morgan O’Neil can rest on her laurels for the moment after winning the prestigious Don Barnett Memorial golf tournament at the Missoula Country Club in Missoula May 27-29. 

The 2016 Laurel High School graduate and Rocky Mountain College sophomore won one of the most storied golf tournaments in the state in her inaugural appearance. Her victory added to an already solid golf resume; O’Neil qualified for the Girls Junior America’s Cup in 2015 and finished in the top five at the State Class A Championship all four years as a member of the Laurel High School team. She was also selected to the second team all-conference in the Frontier league for her freshman season on the strength of one top-5 and four top-10 finishes.

O’Neil comes from a golfing family with deep roots at Laurel Golf Club, where O’Neil said her family has been members “forever.”

Her father, Jim, is the new Laurel High School golf coach. She said he encouraged both she and her brother Paul—an accomplished junior golfer—to take up the game at an early age. Some of her earliest memories were “marching down the driveway carry a blue junior golf club” and “sitting in the backyard with Paul and watching Dad practice his chipping,” she said.

O’Neil was recruited by several colleges in 2015, but ultimately chose to remain close to home and attend Rocky Mountain College. The turning point in her decision came after a phone call she received when she was 10 miles out of Chadron, Neb on a recruiting trip to Chadron State College. RMC head golf coach Aaron Pouley had previously extended a partial scholarship, but when he called with the full scholarship offer she chose to be a Battlin’ Bear.

O’Neil’s last tournament of the year for Rocky was at the conference championship at Arizona State University’s Karsten course in Tempe, Ariz. She struggled early in the tournament, but blistered the back nine in the final round with a three under par 32.

O’Neil carried the momentum from the conference tournament to the Barnett Memorial in Missoula where she opened with a two over par 73 that included birdies on MCC’s eighth and ninth holes. She carded eight straight pars on the back-nine, then finished with a “disappointing” three-putt bogey on 18.

She slept on a four-shot lead over University of Montana freshman, and long-time friend, Teigan Avery.

Her flat stick didn’t cooperate on moving day as she had three three-putts and a four-putt through her first four holes. She then bore down and played the last 14 at two over par to card an 83.

She entered the final round with a three shot lead over three-time high school all state golfer and MSU-B Yellowjacket sophomore Anna DeMars.

O’Neil admitted to another slow start in the final round, “I tried to lose it,” she confessed.

Her dad, who was caddying part-time for O’Neil and her younger brother Paul, tried to help out when she got too aggressive with some trouble shots from the trees.

“He stood in the middle of the fairway and said ‘hit it here,’” O’Neil recounted with a wry smile.

After seeing her three-shot lead shrink to just one after 12 holes, O’Neil found her groove and played the last six holes even-par to card a 77 and win the tournament by four shots.

“I hit the driver so good the last few holes...I didn’t miss a fairway or green,” she said.

O’Neil said the greens in Missoula were a little slower than the notoriously slick putting surfaces at LGC.

Missoula Country Club Head Golf Professional Conner Sproull said although the course was in its usual lush and excellent condition, the greens weren’t quite as fast as in years past because, “Everything was popping, the greens were almost too healthy and growing at a crazy rate,” faster than they could be cut. 

Sproull praised O’Neil’s character and golf skill, then said, “She seems like a great kid.”

Her college golf coach was beaming when asked for comment about O’Neil’s victory at the Barnett Memorial.

“I am so proud of Morgan winning such a great event. To win wire-to-wire is a difficult task and takes mental toughness. We worked very hard this past season on her mental game and living in the present through 18 holes. She did a great job of that at the Barnett and the result shows. Morgan works hard on her game, as well as in the classroom,” Pohle said.

The only scholastic blemish on her year was the lone B she earned in the fall semester of classes. She earned a 4.0 grade point average this spring while pursing a double major in Business Management and Psychology, with a minor in Accounting.

O’Neil said she’s hitting the ball well right now and is looking forward to competing in the Montana Women’s State Amateur at her home course. The Women’s State Amateur will be contested at Laurel Golf Club July 20-22. She says it’ll be like a “junior golf reunion” as she expects at compete against at least ten women she played with and against in high school.

Next up for O’Neil is the Earl Hunt Memorial 4th of July tournament at Whitefish Lake Golf Club in Whitefish June 29-July 1. The 4th of July tournament, along with the Barnett Memorial and the State Amateur, form the trifecta of top amateur golf tournaments in Montana. 

She will enter those tournaments with high confidence because she is as good as her last tournament. 

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