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By Peter W. Zubaty, Sports Editor

Longtime Nelson County coach Kevin Burkhead has a few golfers out this year. Very few.

Just three girls and three boys have come out for varsity golf — three of the six beginners to the sport — leaving Burkhead wondering if he’ll have enough to enter team matches.

“I’m hoping to get a few more out once school starts,” he said.

One problem he faces is the varsity golf season has already started, and NCHS won’t begin the 2018-19 school year until Wednesday.

Burkhead said there’s a few reasons he’s seen for the sport’s declining interest at the high school level. Numbers have been down for the Cardinals ever since the school split that created Thomas Nelson High School earlier this decade. There are more distractions capturing kids’ attention these days, and more sport offerings at the varsity level. A recent rule change prohibiting players younger than seventh grade from participating at the varsity level has also hurt efforts to get kids involved in the game early, and keep them hooked.

“I used to get third-graders,” Burkhead said. “Younger girls go for other sports now.”

It’s too bad, really, said Lilly-Anne Dossett, a senior and one of the top girls’ players in the region.

“It’s a lot more fun playing it than watching it,” she said.

Recruiting efforts have been tough for the players Burkhead does have.

“I’ve tried,” senior Colson Cooper said. “It ain’t working.”

Burkhead was dealt another blow when one of his top players from last year, sophomore Jace Werner, decided not to come out this season.

“We miss him, and honestly, we need him,” Burkhead said.

Compounding things was the graduation of stalwart P.D. Hockensmith, who anchored the team last year. That’s left the coach with a lot of holes to fill. He’s even toyed around with seeing if Dossett would be allowed to play in today’s Kickin’ Chicken tournament at Maywood, which pits local boys’ teams against each other for the local crown.

On the boys’ team, Jason Collier, a junior, returns. Newcomer Carson Cambron, an eighth-grader, rounds out the boys’ team. Burkhead would like to see some others join in boys’ and girls’ so that he can have full foursomes. Collier said they just might like it, and the camaraderie it instills.

“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “You play with other people in matches.”

Collier said he’s improved on his driving and is working on his irons this year. Cooper said his biggest growth has come in his putting game, and he’s working on straightening out his drives.

“They’ve been a little to the right,” he joked.

Burkhead said one side benefit of having so few golfers is that he can spend more one-on-one time in practice with each player and help them fine-tune their game.

Dossett takes over as the team leader in the wake of the graduation of Allie Berry, who now plays at Midway. She said the mental game sometimes gets the best of her in her efforts to consistently stay in the 80s. She’s one of only a handful of Nelson County girls to ever shoot a sub-80 round of 18.

“I still get pretty frustrated … but I’m more relaxed now,” Dossett said. “Burkhead calms me down sometimes.”

The coach thinks his top player can grab a college scholarship if she wants to keep playing, and has a good chance to go to the state tournament, even in what is a tough region.

Dossett said she primarily plays the game for fun, but has noticed some recruiting interest from college coaches, and wouldn’t rule out playing on the next level.

“I think she’d make somebody a fine college player,” Burkhead said.

Newcomer freshmen Tori Schrader and Olivia Hardin round out the girls’ squad.