Digging through her memory bank, Morgan Taylor can rattle off a number of milestone moments during her last four years as a Centennial High golfer.
Early on, there was the confidence-boosting final match of her freshman year, in which she scored a career-high 15 points. The team-leading average she posted last fall to lead the Eagles to their first county championship since 2009 certainly ranks high on the list. And she won’t soon forget the five straight pars she made at last year’s District V Championship that helped her qualify for her first state tournament.
None of them, however, are Taylor’s defining moment.
For that, it takes traveling back to before she ever put on the red and blue — back to when she found herself contemplating whether she would even play high school golf at all.
“That summer before my freshman year, I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to try out for the team. I had been playing golf for a while with my family, and I really enjoyed it, but I also had never played competitively and I had serious doubts whether I was going to be able to rise to that level,” Taylor said. “You see some of these other girls who have been playing in these big tournaments and everything … it was intimidating. Luckily, I had a ton of support from my parents, my coach and my teammates who convinced me to give it a try.
“Looking back, it’s the best decision I ever made.”
Today, with Taylor currently holding the second-best scoring average among Howard County girls golfers at 22.3 points a match, it’s hard to believe there were ever doubts about whether she belonged on a golf course.
The truth is, though, Taylor’s journey is a perfect example of how superstars are made in different ways.
“Morgan is proof that hard work and determination can sometimes take you just as far as natural talent. And, don’t get me wrong, she is an incredible athlete, but you don’t get to where she is in this amount of time without an incredible work ethic,” Centennial coach Stephen Lee said. “As a coach, it’s been inspiring to see her progress each season and I think she’s an inspiration for her teammates as well. These girls on the team look up to her.”
The opportunity to be a leader is something Taylor relishes. After all, she’s had more than her own fair share of quality role models to look up to through the years.
The positive influences started at home. Her parents Jerome and Kristin both have athletic backgrounds and provided a healthy approach to making sure each of their three children were active in non-pressure environments. Their two sons, Sean (20 years old) and Shane (16), developed a passion for basketball fairly early on.
Morgan always looked up to her older brother Sean, who worked to become a second-team All-County boys basketball player for Centennial by the time he was a senior during the 2017-18 season.
But when it came to athletics herself, outside of messing around in the driveway and yard with her brothers, she never really took to the traditional team sports.
“We had her try a bunch of different things at a young age, and I think pretty quickly it became obvious that she wasn’t really into the invading sports,” Jerome said. “The whole idea of being bumped around and knocked over by other kids just wasn’t for her, so we figured it was probably smart to go in a different direction.”
Morgan first picked up a golf club at the age of 8. It was shortly after that when she started taking lessons from one of Howard County’s top high school female golfers at the time Audra McShane, who was a senior at Centennial in 2008 and fresh off being named Howard County Player of the Year when she started working with Morgan.
“It was pretty cool, because I was just learning to play, and with her still being in high school, she was kind of learning how to teach at the same time,” she said.
But in the years leading up to high school, golf never really was much more than a fun family activity for the Taylors — playing nine holes on only a few occasions.
That’s what made tryouts freshman year so daunting.
“Morgan was pretty tiny, very quiet. But I also remember thinking almost right away that she had a ton of potential,” Lee said.
Success didn’t come overnight. Taylor scored just four points in her first high school match under the county’s modified stableford scoring system, which awards one point for a double bogey, two for a bogey, three for a par and four for a birdie.
But the good news was that Centennial had several experienced players willing to take her under their wing and provide encouragement, including first-team All-County player Isabel Trojillo.
“Having Isabel on the team meant everything to me, and I basically modeled myself after her, from how I practiced to my mindset on the course,” Taylor said. “I think she could see that I had the desire to work and get better, and she went out of her way to make sure I stuck with it.”
Taylor’s scoring improved by the end of her freshman season, including two double-digit rounds, but it still wasn’t enough to qualify for the county tournament. The following year, however, she nearly doubled her scoring average and qualified for the postseason.
It was a gradual progression that helped her realize, following an indoor track injury during her sophomore year, that it was time to start putting all her focus on golf.
“Morgan’s greatest strength has always been her ability to challenge herself mentally and I think seeing those progressions along the way has been a tremendous motivator,” Jerome said. “We’ve always kind of been believers in the idea that the more you know, the less you know. In other words, the more she improves, the more she realizes that there is no limit to her potential if she continues to put the work in.”
As a junior last fall, Taylor made the leap into the upper echelon of female players in the area and was the top player for the undefeated Eagles. She averaged 17.3 points a match, finished second at the county championship tournament (87), third at the District V event (85) and made the first appearance of her career at the state tournament.
Then this year, after ramping up her offseason training and summer tournament schedule, Taylor has reached an entirely different level. She has scored 24 or more points in four out of six matches — blowing away her previous career-best score of 21 — while leading Centennial (8-0) to another undefeated start to the season.
“She’s definitely longer off the tee and her putting has improved, but I’d say the biggest difference this year is her consistency. She just doesn’t hit nearly as many bad shots and when she does hit one, she knows how to mentally refocus right away,” Lee said. “Her steady play is exactly what you want in a team leader.”
The goal for Taylor is to now get some of that steady play to carry over into the postseason tournaments this fall, where she will look to challenge reigning Player of the Year Faith McIlvain of Marriotts Ridge — along with a handful of other serious contenders — for medalist honors.
If she continues progressing at her current rate, the biggest milestones may indeed still be ahead of her.
“I’m really just trying to embrace the challenge and enjoy the competition,” Taylor said. “I know I’ve put the work in and now it’s just a matter of believing in myself and playing my game. I feel like I still haven’t shown everything I’m capable of yet.”