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Paintsville senior gets her chance in Bluegrass Junior

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 12:35 AM

ASHLAND -- Fundraising in on hold this week for Ale Walker. It's all about golf for the Paintsville (Ky.) High School graduate.

Walker is competing in the AJGA Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Junior golf tournament at Bellefonte Country Club. She calls the tournament her favorite. She opened Wednesday with a 6-over-par 76 that put her in a five-way tie for ninth place. Walker is five shots behind leader Haylee Harford (Leavittsburg, Ohio), who is seeking a second straight Girls Division crown.

In the Boys Division, Patrick Martin (Birmingham, Ala.) and Austen Swetzel (Nicholasville, Ky.) share the lead at 66. Wyatt Larkin (Morganton, Ga.), Benjamin Streepey (Nicholasville) and Ryan Gillum (Grayson, Ky.) follow at 67.

Round two is Thursday. After play, the top 54 boys and 18 girls will advance to Friday's final round.

Walker was one of 20 juniors nominated for the USGA-AJGA Presidents' Leadership Award created to recognize one boy and one girl junior golfer who demonstrates leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the Leadership Links program.

The 2013 Presidents' Leadership Award winners are Divya Manthena of Camarillo, Calif., for girls and Patrick Cover of Huntersville, N.C., for boys. They'll receive the awards July 10 at the Rolex Tournament of Champions in Lancaster, Pa. They'll also get tickets for a future U.S. Open and automatic entry into the 2013 Rolex Tournament of Champions.

Walker, who will play college golf at the University of Kentucky, said she got an email from the AJGA notifying her she had been nominated for the award.

"I said, 'Wow.' Giving back is what it's all about," she said. "All the work paid off."

Walker's fundraising efforts have included helping organize events for Hands for Haiti, area tornado victims, the family of a deceased classmate and breast cancer awareness.

The Paintsville senior class president spearheaded several community and environmental action projects as part of her school's Pride Club.

"I'm just being myself. Helping out," Walker said of what drives her to go beyond school and golf. "Anything for Kentucky's got to be good."

How does Walker discover all the fund-raising options? "The internet," she said. "You learn about a lot of stuff. Golf is a plus, too. You get to network. You ask if anyone needs help."

As a high school senior Walker was a regional and All-A state champion in the Bluegrass State.

She was also a five-time qualifier for the Kentucky Girls High School Tournament. In 2012, she was the first female entry in the Paintsville Invitational and placed third.

Walker is one of three recruits Kentucky women's coach Golda Johansson Borst signed in November.

"Coach is awesome," Walker said. "And it's the SEC. You could not play for a better conference."

Two former Bluegrass Junior winners, Justin Thomas and Emma Talley, now play for SEC power Alabama.

Looking to the final two rounds at Bellefonte, Walker said one area of her game must improve.

"I've got to do a better job with short putts," she said. "I lipped out four 3-footers and that took a toll. This course is interesting. It's not long, but you have to hit the ball well. You have to be accurate. If you aren't, you get penalized."