Posted: Thursday, 11 April 2013 5:36PM

Palen takes first, Kickapoo edges Catholic in team action

Rogersville’s Alec Palen says he thrives under conditions like he faced Thursday: cold, windy and nearly unsuitable for 18 holes of golf.

Palen wasn’t about to be deterred. The Wildcats junior led all golfers with a round of 73 to win the Ozark Invitational at Fremont Hills.

“I just came into the tournament thinking it was very warm, even though it wasn’t,” said Palen, who finished eighth at Class 3 state as a freshman and tied for fourth last year. “Basically I just told myself that I was going to play good. Every time I do that, I play well.

“I was actually excited to play out here. I told my coach that, ‘I’m really excited to play because it’s just another day.’ It got me motivated for this day.”

Palen credited his coach and teammates for practicing under similar conditions, saying it prepared him for Thursday’s environment.

An equipment change helped, too. Palen said he recently switched putters.

“It’s always, ‘It’s the Indian, not the arrows,’” he said. “But just looking at a different putter, getting your confidence back… sometimes the look helps make a difference.”

Kickapoo edged Springfield Catholic for the overall team title by one stroke. Ben Wiles’ led the Irish with a 74, good for second overall.

“We seem to play better under pressure,” said Irish coach Don East. “The more the odds are against us, the more we seem to step up and play. The easier the conditions, it seems the less (we) step up to play. I kinda hope (the weather) has a little pressure on (us).”

East said Catholic’s top goal is a return trip to state, where the Irish finished fifth in Class 2 last year.  To get back there, Catholic will have to qualify at Joplin’s Eagle Creek Golf Course (districts) and then Mountain Grove (sectionals). Both will be new courses for the Irish.

East said Thursday’s tournament, which featured Class 4 schools like Kickapoo, Ozark, Nixa and Glendale, gives his players an early glimpse of the state competition level.

“Any time you play against good competitors, it makes you play a little better,” East said. “It gave them a little preview of state.”

Ozark and Kickapoo each had two golfers finish in the top 10 of the 13-team field. For the Chiefs, it’s the second team title in a week as they also beat West Plains in a tiebreaker at the MSU Relays on April 4.

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