Lindsay Cote of Newport blasts out of a trap during the Maine Junior Golf Championship earlier this summer. Cote leads a talented Nokomis squad this season. Portland Press Herald photo by Derek Davis

Matt Brown was giving Lindsay Cote a chance to prove herself. The Nokomis golf coach had the most stacked, experience-laden team of his tenure, and in an early-season match against Skowhegan, he had Cote, a freshman, making her debut in the fourth spot.

Cote held her own, and then some. The Warriors won the match, and Cote was the medalist with a 42.

“My golf team was kind of questioning ‘Geez, Coach, why are you putting her up so high as a freshman?’ ” Brown said. “After that first match, it kind of just solidified that, the other guys were like ‘OK, she’s really good.’ ”

Two years later, Cote is now the Warriors’ No. 1 player, and leading the trend in the area of girls rising to the tops of their teams’ ladders. Sophomore Jaycie Christopher is the No. 1 at Skowhegan and one of central Maine’s most talented players. Freshman Kate Bourdon is the top player at Erskine, and after shooting 46 in her first varsity match, is looking like the centerpiece of the Eagles’ new wave of talent. Leah Dechaine and Lauren Lancaster are battling for the second spot at Maine Central Institute, Monmouth has an individual tournament hopeful in Abby Flanagan, and over in Turner, Leavitt has the state individual favorite in Ruby Haylock, who played, and made the cut, in the Maine Open in August.

“It’s been obvious … there are more girls, and there are more girls that are playing at a pretty high level,” Skowhegan coach Dave Martin said.

According to the Maine Principals’ Association, the number of girls playing golf in the state has increased 8.3% since 2014, from 121 to 132, though the number reached 130 two seasons ago. The biggest increase, executive director Mike Burnham said, has been in the quality of play, evidenced by the MPA lowering the cut score for the girls individual tournament from 110 to 100 in 2017.

“There were fewer of the real high scores,” Burnham said. “The number of qualifiers went down, but the level of competition was certainly greater.”

Erskine Academy’s Kate Bourdon putts on first green last week in Vassalboro. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

That’s become true of golf in central Maine as well. Cote’s been the leading example. The junior was eighth in the individual tournament last year and she’s picked up the pace this fall, shooting 39 in the first match of the season against Waterville and Lawrence to earn medalist honors.

“It’s not about if she’s going to play well. She knows she’s going to play well,” Brown said. “She’s just gotten more mature as far as her golf game. Her short game, chipping and putting, has improved a ton. She’s really been working hard at that.”

Cote, however, said her biggest improvement has been a mental one. She admitted she would get in her own way last year, and let mistakes or poor decisions on the course affect her for the following holes. After a summer spent playing in tournaments and practicing, however, she’s honed a mental toughness that serves her well in competition.

“I feel a lot more comfortable because I put myself in positions where I’m scoring really well, and I just needed to put it all together in a tournament,” said Cote, who played at the New England team championships and was second in her flight at the Maine Women’s Amateur . “Sometimes the pressure got to me. But definitely, as the summer went on, I got a lot better about handling it as the round went on. I think that’s definitely going to help me out when we get to the state tournament.”

In addition to playing as the No. 1, Cote has tried to fill the team’s leadership void as well.

“I’m hoping just to get all of our young players as interested as I am in the game,” she said, “so next year it’ll be my senior year and we’ll have some experience.”

At Skowhegan, Christopher is in her second year as the team’s top player. She qualified for the individual tournament last season and shot 95, but she’s improved considerably in her second year, posting practice scores consistently in the high 30s and low 40s.

“She can hit the ball a long way, which is probably her strength right now,” Martin said. “She keeps the ball in play off the tee, she’s as long as most of the boys I have on the team. … She’s much better at chipping and putting than she was last year. She’s starting to put it all together.”

Much like Cote, Christopher struggled with the mental side of the game as well.

“It was mostly pressure that I put on myself,” she said. “I wanted to be successful, and going into the season, I expected to win more matches than I did. … When I wasn’t as successful, it was harder to deal with than in other sports.”

To put herself in better position to contribute, Christopher spent much of her time this summer at Lakewood Golf Course, translating her natural athleticism into a more polished game. It worked. In her first match, she halved with Messalonskee’s Dylan Cunningham, also one of the top players in the area.

“(I’m) just trusting my swing, and committing to the shot is really the biggest thing,” she said. “Just grabbing a club and really saying ‘This is what I’m going to hit,’ and not second-guessing myself.”

Cote and Christopher are two of the best girls playing in the area now, but they have company. And as Cote observed, more may be on the way in the years to come.

“As I’ve continued to compete in these (MSGA) tournaments, more and more girls come out and put themselves out there and play at a high level,” she said. “I feel like other girls are starting to recognize that, and they’re like ‘Oh, other girls are doing this, we can totally do it too.’ “

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