By Brad Morris
ASHVILLE — Audrey Keplar can credit a sport that she decided to give up for helping to open the door for a different sport that she has found much more to her liking.
“I played basketball when I was younger, and our team wasn’t very good. I just sat the bench game after game and wasn’t having much fun,” Keplar said. “After the game, my dad would take me to a driving range called the Golf Dome that is no longer around, and I would just hit a bunch of golf balls.
“I realized that I was having a lot more fun hitting the golf balls and had some ability in doing it, so I decided to start focusing on golf and started taking lessons in the winter of my seventh-grade year.”
The accolades that Keplar has earned since becoming a golfer indicate that she made the right decision.
Keplar is a three-time Mid-State League Buckeye Division Player of the Year and will seek to earn a berth in the Division I Central District tournament for a fourth consecutive season on Tuesday when she opens the postseason play at Blacklick Woods Golf Club.
“I’ve been around high school golf in the area now for about 10 years and I think there’s been a small group of girls that have really elevated the game, not only at their school but also for Pickaway County. Audrey Keplar is one of those girls,” Teays Valley coach Spencer Young said. “Audrey had players like Brooke Devolld to compare herself to when she was coming up through the Teays Valley program and she also had players like Maddi Shoults at Westfall and Elaina Seeley at Circleville to push her to stay focused when playing in the county and league.
“I think the girls at Teays Valley and girls in the area can look at players like Audrey and see what happens when you put the time and work into your game. She’s a great person, student, and golfer and deserves whatever success comes her way.”
The Teays Valley senior has averaged a score of 39.07 on nine holes this season and 72.25 for 18 holes.
Keplar, who plans to major in biochemistry and continue playing golf collegiately at the University of Findlay, believes the pace of the game suits her analytical mind.
“I like that golf is not a fast-paced sport like basketball and I think that works for me,” she said. “I’m an analytical type of person, so I like the slower pace, being able to focus and analyze every shot that I have, the approach I should take and the club that I should use.
“I also like the individual aspect of the sport. What I do on the course is completely dependent on how hard I work and how hard I practice. If you want to be a good golfer, you have to put the work in.”
Keplar started taking lessons when she became serious about playing golf from Brian Barnett, who is the long-time boys golf coach at Teays Valley, and then Matt Smith, to work on developing and harnessing her talent.
“I felt like I had some natural talent for the game when I started taking it more seriously, but I still had to work hard to develop the skills that I have,” said Keplar, who can hit her driver as far as 230 yards. “I’ve always been able to strike the ball fairly well off the tee. My short game with putting has also developed and is something I can rely on.
“The one area of my game I’ve probably had to work the most on is with my iron and wedges.”
Keplar has traveled to tournaments as far away as Florida over the last three years, often playing twice a month during the spring and summer to continue and hone her craft. She also uses a simulator during the winter months and continues to swing her clubs in preparation for tournament play.
“It takes a lot of commitment, because I want to stay competitive and work on sharpening my game,” she said. “A couple of years ago, I went down to Florida with Maddi Shoults for a tournament, and I won it. That was one of the coolest tournament moments I’ve had.
“I enjoyed playing golf with Brooke DeVolld when I first came up to high school and we still talk about things. I enjoyed the last few years playing against Maddi whenever we had Westfall in a match or tournament and also during the offseason. I thought we always pushed each other and got the best out of each other. I’ve missed being around her this year since she is playing collegiately now in Arizona (at Ottawa University).”
Playing competitive sports can sometimes be more challenging from a mental standpoint than physically and Keplar believes that definitely applies to golf. She credits work she did with Chad Conley during the COVID-19 pandemic with helping her mental approach to the game.
“Golf is a sport that can definitely get in your head and, honestly, I can still struggle a little bit in that area of my game,” she said. “When I first started playing and into high school, I would get really discouraged if I hit a bad shot and I would let that carry over into the next shot and next hole.
“When we had the shutdown due to the pandemic back in the spring of 2020, I did some Zoom calls with Chad Conley where I worked with him on mental training techniques that have helped me. I’ve learned that if you have a bad shot that you have to move on and not let one bad shot lead to three, four or five more bad shots.”
Keplar discussed taking a leadership role this season for the Vikings and how that has helped her mental approach, as well.
“I try to set a good example with our younger players by showing them how I work and how I approach the game,” she said. “I know it’s important for me to control my emotions, because they need to learn and do the same thing so that’s helped me out this year. At one of the matches we had earlier this season, I hit a driver into the water. I took my drop, got back onto the green and still saved par.”
Keplar ended her recruiting process earlier this month when she committed to defending Division II national champion Findlay.
“When I first started looking at schools, I was thinking about playing at a bigger school, but then I started feeling like a smaller school would be a better fit for me,” Keplar said. “Findlay has a good biochemistry program, the head coach (Dominic Guarnieri) is very nice and then I also know a couple of girls who already play there. It’s going to be a good fit for me.”
Keplar opened league play this season with an eagle on her first hole and hit another eagle on the final league hole of her career to cap a medalist round of 68 at the postseason tournament.
“We had some good battles with Circleville this season and I enjoyed competing against Elaina Seeley from Circleville. She’s a very good golfer and I think we pushed each other, like Maddi and I did,” Keplar said.
Now, the Teays Valley senior is focused on trying to make a postseason run and cap her high school career the right way.
“I’ve been playing with a good energy this season and I want to keep that going into the postseason, where I can stay relaxed and have fun,” she said. “I want to go out playing the best golf that I can and whatever happens, happens.
“It would be nice to get back to districts again, because the Central District has a lot of amazing golfers and it’s fun to compete in a tournament like that. Obviously, if I could play well enough to make state then that would be amazing.”
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