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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Royal Ottawa’s Ashley Lafontaine wins Ontario women’s match-play golf championship

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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Royal Ottawa’s Ashley Lafontaine wins Ontario women’s match-play golf championship

By Martin Cleary

When Ottawa’s Ashley Lafontaine was six years old, her family took out a membership at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club.

“At first, I didn’t love it as I do now. I liked competition and tournaments. One thing led to another and I wanted to compete,” she recalled in a phone interview on Wednesday.

As she was finding her way in the sport as a young teenager, Derek MacDonald, who is now the club’s academy manager, became her coach.

“He has always believed in me. At the time, he saw talent and constantly believed in me and that made me believe in myself. He saw potential and drive,” added Lafontaine, who won the Ontario women’s match-play championship last month at the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club, after finishing second in 2021.

“He’s obviously a really great coach and people know him for that. He understands things about golf that no one else does. He taught me so much about my swing that if something goes wrong, I can correct it.”

By believing in her golfing abilities and practising the many elements of the game, Lafontaine became a notable player on the Ottawa Valley Golf Association junior circuit. She was third at the 2018 city and district medal championship, and was runner-up at the 2019 city and district medal and match-play tournaments.

In 2020, she repeated her second-place results in the two OVGA city and district junior championships and added a third-place showing in the women’s city and district medal tournament. While her results were good, the Grade 12 student at Nepean High School was running out of time to earn an athletic scholarship to an American university.

Lafontaine put her mind to becoming an even better player in the winter of 2020-21 and that paid large dividends. By the time the 2021 golf season arrived, she was ready to play with no objectives.

“I really worked really hard on my game in the winter,” she explained. “I went into the golf season and I felt ready. I had no expectations. I had nothing to lose and wanted to build on how I practised. Just let it go.”

And she did. In a seven-day stretch early in the season, she unexpectedly won a qualifier to compete in the 2021 United States junior open golf championship, placed second in the Ontario women’s match-play championship and was third in the Ontario junior spring classic. That season, she also made the cut at her first Canadian women’s amateur championship, was invited to the Team Canada junior selection camp and made the Ontario junior team.

“That whole week I had three good events and it gave me confidence for the rest of the year,” she said.

Despite missing an opportunity to get a golf scholarship a year earlier, Lafontaine was thrilled to commit to Elon University, an NCAA Division 1 school in Elon, North Carolina, for her freshman year in 2022-23.

But her freshman and sophomore years confronted her with some interesting issues. Lafontaine dealt with a left wrist injury from overuse, a case of mononucleosis and a fall golf season, which traditionally was a season for her to improve her game in Ottawa.

Lafontaine dealt with her challenges in meaningful ways and was still able to benefit from the golf program and her academic studies.

As a student, she was named on July 1 as a Women’s Golf Coaches’ Association All-American scholar for a second year. She is studying accounting (major) and sports management (minor).

In the Elon Phoenix golf program, she had the team’s best average score of 74.59 strokes per round for 2023-24, recorded five top-10 tournament results and was part of a team victory.

Lafontaine was the Coastal Athletic Association (formerly Colonial Athletic Association) women’s golfer of the week in September, 2022, for winning the Elon Invitational individual and team titles. She scored a birdie on the 54th and final hole for the individual win and had an overall score of 75-68-68 for a two-under-par 211.

In her 2022-23 freshman year, she also registered an eagle during a playoff to give the Phoenix a team win at the William and Mary fall invitational.

When Lafontaine, who has an intimidating long drive off the tee, returned home from her sophomore year at Elon, she returned to the Ontario women’s match-play championship in June and found the ultimate success.

After tying for seventh place in the qualifying round at four-over-par 76, she confidently moved ahead to win all four of her head-to-head matches. She defeated Gabrielle Harrison of Sunningdale, 1 up, in the round of 16; Nobelle Park of RattleSnake Point, 4 and 3, in the quarterfinals; Myranda Quinton, Pipers Health, 2 and 1, in the semifinals; and Kaprice Park, RattleSnake Point, 3 and 2, in the final.

“I have played a few times at Cataraqui and I felt I knew the course. I had confidence and could swing freely. [Winning] felt great, really nice,” said Lafontaine, who viewed it as a grateful reward, after her challenging experiences of the past two years.

“I like to go shot for shot with people. I feed off that. I see what they do and want to do better.”

RIVERMEAD’S LAURIER PERRAULT WINS TUNIS ON SIXTH PLAYOFF HOLE

After almost winning the 75th Alexander of Tunis men’s golf championship on Tuesday in the regulation 36 holes, Laurier Perrault of the Rivermead Golf Club needed to commit to some serious overtime to achieve the title on his home course.

As Perrault stood on the 18th tee for what he thought would be the final hole in his quest for the second major in Quebec Golf’s Triple Crown, he marked a double bogey on his card, which left him tied with Royal Ottawa’s Romi Dilawri for first place.

Perrault used rounds of 69 and 70 for a five-under-par 139 total, while Dilawri followed his opening-round 74 with the best score of the second day, a seven-under 65, to rocket 35 places up the standings and into a tie for first place.

A sudden-death playoff was needed to determine the champion and that went a marathon six holes before Perrault emerged with an unmatched score. They played the 17th and 18th holes over and over to decide the winner.

The last time a Rivermead golfer won the Tunis championship on the Rivermead course was by Robert Mackay in 2017. Rivermead’s Julien Sale was the 2018 and 2019 champion, but his wins were on the Royal Ottawa and Rideau View courses respectively.

Thomas Westfall was the last Ottawa Valley Golf Association player to win the Tunis in 2020 and it happened on his home Camelot layout. Seven OVGA golfers have captured 11 of the last 26 Tunis championships, since Brad Fritsch of Rideau View was the champion in 1999.

Emile Lebrun of Laval-Sur-Le-Lac was alone in third place at 73-67 for a four-under 140.

Four players tied for fourth at three-under 141, including Maxime Marengere of Rivermead, 74-67; Ryan Sevigny of Eagle Creek, 71-70; and Brendan Kuffner of Royal Ottawa, 66-76. Kuffner was the first-round leader on Monday.

James Newton of Royal Ottawa, 71-72, and Vincent Laplante of Rivermead, 68-75, were deadlocked in 11th place at one-under 143. Laplante was second after the first round.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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