Thompson sisters form unique golf pairing as the only girls, playing for opposing teams

The golf course is where business deals are consummated, competitive fires are stoked and even the world’s best are routinely humbled. Far less often is an opportunity for a pair of sisters to tee off in a competitive, yet light-hearted match.

 

But, this was the case last week when Kayla and Jenna Thompson and their respective high school golf programs met at the Royal St. Augustine Golf &Country Club. Kayla, 17, is a senior at St. Joseph Academy. Jenna, 15, is a sophomore at St. Augustine who advanced to the postseason as a freshman.

“I thought it was really fun playing with my sister because it’s the huge thing I’ve been looking forward to. She is my enemy now,” Kayla said, letting off a laugh to alleviate the animus.

Neither St. Augustine nor St. Joseph has a girls golf team, so the Thompsons compete with, and against, boys during the regular season. They attend different schools because Kayla was enrolled in the private school ahead of her junior year, while Jenna is home-schooled. Because the family of eight lives in St. Augustine, their zoned school is St. Augustine High, which is why Jenna tees off for the Yellow Jackets.

Her presence has been welcomed from Day 1 by St. Augustine golf coach Larry Benicasa.

Golf may not necessarily be the family sport, but it is one way the Thompsons spend time together. It’s a slate that incudes carving out time to annually attend The Players Championship.

“It’s really relaxing,” Kayla said. “I love just getting out, trying my best.”

“You don’t have to run in it,” Jenna interjected. “In basketball, you have to run back and forth.”

“It’s really relaxing, it gets your mind off things,” Kayla added. “People underestimate golf, I feel, because…”

“They don’t know how much skill it takes,” Jenna concluded.

“It’s actually really hard,” Kayla said. “you have to think of the speed, the distance and what’s coming up next. There is a lot to think about on the course. It’s all in the mental game.”

Their round had an added test of their mental acuity: temperatures in the 90s with high humidity.

On a broiling hot August afternoon last Thursday, Jenna and her Yellow Jackets teammates wore all black. Kayla was spotted in a white hat with a green Adidas polo with the St. Joseph Academy logo emblazoned on it.

It wasn’t the first time the two were paired together in a varsity golf match, but it was the most natural of the three meetings between them.

“I always like watching them compete,” their father, Wayne, said as the two putted on the 15th green. “They have grown closer as sisters. This year, they are having more fun. Last year was Jenna’s first year and Kayla’s first year at a new school, so they were newbies.”

They were paired with Taylor Dickmann and Evan Price, the No. 1 golfers for both St. Joseph and St. Augustine. The foursome started at the par-4 10th hole. Kayla, who later admitted she was more nervous than her younger sister, started with a seven. Jenna carded a bogey.

Two holes later, at the par-5 12th, Dickmann and Price both sliced their tee shots to the right. Dickmann was forced to take a drop and Price’s tee shot hit a tree and bounded toward the fairway, but didn’t make it all the way there. Meanwhile, the Thompsons were in the fairway, Jenna’s tee shot was a little close to the green on the 374-yard hole.

Jenna’s approach was just off the green and she chipped to about 30 feet. It was a long shot for birdie, but one she took with aplomb.

Later, Jenna would say the birdie was her favorite shot of the day.

When asked to describe her read the 15-year-old’s analysis was simple: “I went behind it. Then I walked around the green and putt,” she said with a smile.

Kayla quipped the putt was luck, but she didn’t mean it. Her comment was an opportunity to needle her sister and that she wasn’t going to let go to waste. When Jenna made her long birdie, Kayla was the first the congratulate her.

Jenna didn’t try to contain her smile as the foursome headed toward the next hole. As the two walked to the 13th tee, two of their younger siblings led the way on the bridge that separates the red tees from the other boxes on the hole.

When one of the sisters lost her tee shot, the small armada of followers helped locate the ball. Wayne was in one cart while Kayla and Jenna’s mother, Valerie, was in another with the sisters’ four younger siblings. Leah, 13, Luke, 11, Dylan 7 and Hannah, 5, who were not as enthralled with the golf as they were an opportunity to hang out with the entire family at one time.

Leah, who will likely golf at St. Augustine High next year, paid closer attention to the proceedings, and even walked a few fairways with her sisters.

“I started them when they were 6 years old,” Wayne said proudly. “It was something I liked and I wished they would have started earlier. In the business world, it’s something you can always play. If they don’t play in college, they can play in the business world.”

Wayne is the Director of Business Information Systems for the St. Johns County School District. In 2005 he, Valerie and his three daughters moved from Warner Robbins, Georgia to Northeast Florida. A little while later he got them into golf through The First Tee of North Florida, using his background as a member of the Georgia National Guard to give his girls lessons at a discounted rate.

Kayla said golf provides an opportunity to hone her leadership skills, meet new people, and it is an avenue where she can always try her best.

On the afternoon when she teed off with her sister, she may have tried a little too hard.

Having beaten her sister on both occasions when the Flashes and Yellow Jackets had dual matches in 2016, she wanted to continue the trend.

Kayla bogeyed No. 11, but Jenna missed her short bogey putt. Jenna’s birdie on 12 once again extended her advantage to two strokes. Both sisters produced a 6 at the par-4 13th hole.

Jenna and Kayla both carded pars at No. 14. When Kayla’s tee shot was just short of the green, she walked back to her bag and selected another club. Jenna had a chance for her second birdie of the day, but her attempt rolled just outside of the hole and drifted toward the fringe. She made her uphill putt to remain at 4-over for the afternoon.

Jenna’s par at No. 18 and Kayla’s bogey meant her 4-over 40 was not only four shots better than her sister, but was the lowest round carded by a St. Augustine golfer that afternoon.

“This is actually a once-in-a-lifetime thing, her beating me,” Kayla said. “She played really well today. I’m proud. I’m proud of my little sister.”

As the two walked up the 18th fairway, thunder was clapping to the west. With all the pairings on the final two holes, and radar, showing the threat was in the Mill Creek area, the Flashes and Yellow Jackets continued on toward the clubhouse.

It was going to take an even bigger act of God to get in between this good-natured contest. It’s one that eventually arrived, in the form of thunderstorms and torrential rains, but long after the Flashes and Yellow Jackets extended handshakes and congratulations in the direction of the other.

When Jenna tapped in her par putt on the par-5, 414-yard 18th hole, she smiled and shook her sister’s hand. The foursome took turns exchanging goofy handshakes that belied the genial nature of the round.

“I’m glad they have this to share together,” Valerie said. “Golf is one of those sports no matter how old you are, you can always play. I hope they carry it on for the rest of their lives.”

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