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SHELLY FORD of Jefferson is back at the state golf tournament for a second straight season.

It’s go-for-broke week for Shelly Ford. When Jefferson’s senior golfer takes to Ohio State University’s Gray Course on Friday morning for her first of two rounds in the Division II girls state tournament, she will tee off with the knowledge that she can just go into the tournament swinging free and easy.

By her own admission, Ford is normally a conservative golfer, avoiding risky shots that can quickly inflate one’s score. But this is one week when, facing a shot that carries a high risk but can also produce a big reward, she’s willing to take the chance to try and pull off that shot.

“I’m going into the tournament with everything to gain and nothing to lose,” the daughter of Jeff and Mary Ford of Ashtabula said. “If I play poorly, it’s OK. If I play great, it’s great.

“Definitely, I’m normally conservative in tournament play. Usually, if I’m in trouble, I’d take my medicine, take my bogey and move on. But this week, if it’s a reasonably feasible risk, I might take it.”

Why this change in attitude? After all, turning in a couple solid rounds Friday and Saturday could help Ford achieve one of the big goals she has been after since she finished 20th in last year’s state tournament, that of getting herself somewhere in the top 10 scorers, which would earn All-Ohio honors.

“I would love to be in the top 10 and make All-Ohio,” the defending Star Beacon Ashtabula County Girls Golfer of the Year said. “That’s definitely what I’m shooting for.

“I think that’s very attainable. I didn’t play anywhere near what I would call normal and I still did pretty well last year. I think if I play near what I’m capable, I have a very good shot at being in the top 10.”

Her coach, Sara Dean, believes finishing in the top 10 is quite achievable for Ford.

“Shelly wants to make All-Ohio,” she said. “I really think she can do it, if she goes out and plays the way Shelly knows how to play.

“I think going there for a second year will really help Shelly. She understands the course. The pressure isn’t on her this week, either. She can go out and give it everything she’s got and have a good time.”

There are a host of other reasons Ford approaches this year’s tournament with confidence. Actually, qualifying from the district tournament at Tam-O-Shanter in Canton was much more tension-ridden.

“I’m ready to go this week,” Ford said. “The district tournament (where she shot an 84) was by far the most pressure I’ve faced. Making it to state is the icing on the cake.”

Having already made a verbal commitment to attend Cleveland State University in 2010 just before this season began is a part of Ford’s sense of freedom this week.

“I don’t have anything to lose,” she said. “College is set. There’s no one to try and impress this week.”

By qualifying for a second straight state tournament, Ford believes she has also proven that she is the legitimate article as a golfer.

“I realized at district last week that this was my last shot to go out there and prove to everyone that I’m a good golfer,” she said. “I want to show that last year was not a fluke.”

She also believes she is better prepared to face the challenges the Gray Course, which has received loving touches from golf legend and Ohio State graduate Jack Nicklaus, presents. She knows the course will be long and the greens are huge.

“I do feel I’m better prepared and know what to expect,” Ford said. “I know what the course is like now, when last year it was all brand new to me. And there was a lot of pressure to perform last year, where there’s not as much this year.

“The Gray Course is wide open. It’s not a difficult course. It suits my game well if I perform.”

The one element that prevented Ford from doing even better last year was the huge greens.

“It has very, very large greens,” she said. “I left myself with a lot of 50-foot putts last year.”

Equipped with that knowledge, Ford worked very hard since last year’s state tournament on two facets — her short game and her putting.

“State showed what I needed to work on,” she said. “I think my short game has improved tremendously. Now I think I can score even if I don’t hit my best shot.

“I’ve worked on my putting a lot, especially my touch. I think I can get the ball a lot closer to the hole now and putt better.”

Dean believes a better showing on the greens will be a key for Ford.

“The big thing is Shelly has to do a good job of putting,” she said. “I think she’s made the adjustments.”

There’s another element that could play in Ford’s favor — the elements. Last year’s tournament was played in 80-degree temperatures. The early forecast for this year in Columbus is temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s with the threat of inclement weather.

“Last year, I think the temperatures wore Shelly out,” Dean said. “I almost hope it’s lousy weather. I think Shelly’s a good bad-weather player.”

Ford would appear to favor such conditions, too.

“Last year, we had great weather, and we were all spoiled,” she said. “I think I’m a pretty good mudder. I feel I’m able to play through bad conditions.

“But I’m not expecting people down there to blow up if it is bad because they’ve all dealt with that before. I wouldn’t mind it if we had to play lift, clean and place, though.”

Another thing that should be a plus for Ford is being able to completely focus on golf. Last year, she had to concern herself with hustling home from Columbus on Saturday to attend Jefferson’s homecoming dance that night. With this year’s homecoming held last week, that is one less issue to face.

“When I saw the dates (for the state tournament and homecoming), there was an immediate sense of relief,” she said. “Now I can just focus on golf.”

Ford should have quite a gallery on hand to urge her along. In addition to her parents and her brother, Kevin, who plays for the Falcons’ boys team, several friends from school and golf also plan to attend at least a portion of the tournament.

“My mom and dad, my brother and Coach Dean will be there,” she said. “I’m also going to have some friends I’ve played golf with and some friends from school. I’m really grateful to all of them for their support.”

Dean is supremely confident of Ford’s ability to perform this weekend, maybe even more than Ford herself.

“What a great way for Shelly to end her high school career!” she said. “I definitely think she can make All-Ohio.”

She’s also hoping Ford can capture the kind of magic North Lima South Range’s Ariel Witmer found last year when she put together two record-breaking rounds to claim the Division II state individual championship.

“I hope Shelly can be the Ariel Witmer of this year,” Dean said.

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