CORTLAND - Anyone who has ever golfed understands how frustrating it can be to rip off a nine on a par 5, especially when it's a course you've played countless times.
The anger can simmer for the rest of the round - maybe the rest of the day.
So, when Lakeview freshman Kaylee Neumeister, the Bulldogs' number-one golfer, shot a nine on hole No. 7 at Tamer Win Country Club, Lakeview's home course, her initial reaction wasn't much different.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Lakeview’s Kaylee Neumeister, 14, lines up her putt at Tamer Win Golf Course earlier this season. Neumeister overcame brain cancer earlier in life and is now thriving in multiple sports for the Bulldogs.
"It was like the end of the world to her," girls golf coach Mike Turco said.
The only distinction is Neumeister knows what it's like to encounter an "end of the world" situation, and just like before, she responded in a way that amazed Turco.
"She ended up going par, par after that nine," said Turco of her next two holes. "She's able to let go of those bad holes very easily and not let them play in her mind. Not a whole lot rattles her. She doesn't feel the pressure. She feels like she plays better under pressure. It drives her."
Coming through in dire situations is nothing new for Neumeister.
She was just a regular 10-year-old in May of 2008. She looked up to her older sister, Alexis. She enjoyed the outdoors, did well in school and loved playing sports. Yet, those types of everyday pleasures came to an abrupt end when a tumor was found and she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
"We were at softball practice one day, and she kept complaining that she was seeing two balls hit at her in the outfield," said Lance Neumeister, Kaylee's father and coach at the time. "So I said, 'OK Kaylee, why don't you try your mom's glasses?' So she tried that and it still didn't work. So we took her to the emergency room and they did an MRI, and they saw that a tumor was blocking the flow of spinal fluid to the brain. They flew her to Cleveland that night and she had surgery the next day."
The surgeon actually drilled a hole in Kaylee's brain to allow the fluid to pass, Lance said. Kaylee underwent multiple operations over the next few months to help with chemotherapy, and she maintained a positive outlook throughout the entire process.
"Just to get better," said Kaylee of what her mindset was during that time. "That was my main focus, and everything else just came second."
The surgeries were successful, and Kaylee said she's currently "stable," and her, her family and the doctors are "just watching it."
Everyone else is watching her golf game. The freshman sensation is one of the top players in the county, finishing second by one stroke in the All-American Conference championship last week. She's been Lakeview's best player all season and helped lead the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in the conference, losing only on a tiebreaker to Hubbard.
She said she has absolutely no limitations from the tumor or surgeries and believes the process may have actually helped her become the player she is today, specifically in rebounding from a rough hole.
"Definitely," she said, "because if you don't handle things the right way, it just goes all downhill from there. I just kind of give myself a pep talk and move on from the hole like it didn't happen. If you start trying to chase that score, you're going to struggle. You can't keep looking at that hole. You have to go passed that."
Easier said than done for the average person, but Neumeister is anything but average. She shot a 77 in her first high school event, a tournament at Olde Dutch Mill Golf Course where nine other teams competed. Neumeister was the medalist, edging Howland's Haleigh Guerrero, another one of the top golfers in the area, by one stroke. Overall, in 17 matches this year, Neumeister has been the medalist 10 times.
And, as Turco said, she's just getting started.
"That's what I think makes her so special - she has a lot of talent that she'll be able to develop even more as she goes on," he said.
Turco has known Neumeister was special for quite a while. A fifth-grade teacher in the Howland school district, he taught her during the time she was battling cancer. He remembers how she would always make up the work she missed when she wasn't able to attend school. She never used the trauma she was going through as an excuse, he said.
"When she was in fifth grade, she missed about once a week for appointments, chemotherapy and the things she had to go through," he said. "But she was always one of my top students. Even when she missed, she would make up the work. She's so smart that she was able to pick up on what she missed. I think that's kind of helped her in golf, being able to pick up the game the way she has. I think that everything she went through drives her on the golf course, and it's helped her become a better person too."
Neumeister hasn't always been a golf enthusiast. In fact, she just started playing a few years ago. She was an accomplished softball player until she became ill. After the surgeries, doctors said it wasn't safe for her to play contact sports, so one day she picked up a set of old golf clubs that had been collecting dust in her the garage, went out back and started hacking away.
"I told my dad I wanted to try it," said Neumeister, who jokingly admitted that dad is still trying to beat her in golf. "It took a lot of practice, but my first round out, I had a chip in for birdie, and I think that's what brought me back."
She's been birdying quite a bit ever since.
Just ask Turco. The fifth-year coach had a hard time pinpointing the strongest part of her game because she excels in all areas, he said. He eventually concluded that driving was probably her best attribute, but quickly added that her overall understanding of the game was second to none.
"She studies the golf course before she plays it, takes notes and she keeps her golf card after the match so she can use it in the future," he said. "She's an exciting golfer to watch. She's not overly emotional. She's not one to give up on the round. She battles through any issues that she has. You don't see her fist pumping or anything like that. When she gets a birdie, it's like she's done it before. She gets her ball and walks off. There's not too much emotion with her, which I think is a sign of maturity."
Neumeister had to grow up in hurry when she was faced with the potentially fatal news of brain cancer. Neumeister, 10 at the time, said she was old enough to understand what was wrong, but she didn't fully comprehend the severity of the situation. During chemotherapy, she couldn't do much of anything. She was tired and sick most of the time, and when she was healthy enough to attend school, she had to wear a mask so she didn't catch any type of illness. She took a year off from sports following the surgeries, but said she "can't not play a sport," and soon found golf.
It's a decision she's happy she made, not only because of her success but because of the joy the game and, in particular, her team has brought her.
"We joke around a lot," she said. "I love my team. I don't know what I'd do without them. It takes so much pressure off of me going into a tournament with them. They're the best. I just love being around them."
The feeling appears to be mutual, Turco said.
"She gets along with everyone," he said. "After the match, she clowns around with all these girls like they're her long-lost friends. They're pulling practical jokes on each other, they pull practical jokes on me - they're just a lot of fun. And she doesn't act like she's so good and better than everyone. That's not how she is.
"She's got a lot of personality and a big smile. She had me laughing until I was literally crying the other night. And she was laughing until she almost couldn't breathe."
Neumeister and the rest of the Bulldogs take part in the Division II sectional tournament Wednesday at Pine Lakes Golf Course in Hubbard.