For several years, they worked constantly to improve their golf, and yet they never became Anne Arundel County title contenders. Severna Park's Kelly Lynch played in a dozen tournaments each summer, then felt helpless once the high school season started. Her teammate, Christine Flack, and South River's Diana Woodall spent 10 hours a week at the driving range, never believing they could win a major high school tournament.

Then, in December, it happened: All at once, Lynch, Flack and Woodall turned into golfers capable of placing first in Anne Arundel.

"And the amazing thing is, it's not like we necessarily got better on our own," Woodall said. "We can all win now, and it's all because of one thing. Stephanie Connelly finally graduated."

When Connelly, a four-time county champion and the 2005 All-Met golfer of the year, left Northeast High School in January to spend her last semester at the Ledbetter Golf Academy in Florida, it signaled a drastic change in girls' county golf. When schools begin golf practice in August, juniors Flack and Lynch and senior Woodall will finally feel like they have something to play for.

"When Stephanie was playing, it was kind of like everyone was battling for second place," Lynch said. "Now that she's gone, everything has opened up. It feels like anybody can win a county championship."

This summer, Lynch has asserted herself as one of the favorites. She traveled to tournaments in Delaware, North Carolina, Florida and Virginia, took lessons to improve her distance off the tee and spent a few hours each day working on her short game.

She also did something even Connelly never accomplished. During a junior tournament at the Eisenhower Golf Course this month, Lynch had, as she described it, "the most amazing four hours ever." She had two birdies in the first six holes and after that had birdie putting opportunities on every hole.

She finished with a bogey-free 64 -- 13 shots better than her previous best round.

"I knew every shot was going to be perfect," Lynch said. "It was one of those rounds where I couldn't do anything wrong. I felt like a pro or something."

Said Mike Lynch, Kelly's father: "I was walking and watching her, and it was just the most special thing. People were asking me, 'Are you feeding her Tiger burgers?' Nobody could believe it. It was really neat to watch."

It was slightly terrifying, though, for Flack and Woodall to hear about. They've both enjoyed progressive summers, too, but a 64?

"That kind of score," Flack said, "is totally crazy."

Flack consistently shot 80 or 81 this summer, and she thinks those scores could come down once Severna Park's season starts. She spent a week at a University of Maryland camp that focused on innovation around the green. Now, when Flack is just off the putting surface, she sometimes uses an 8-iron instead of her usual pitching wedge, depending on the lie.

Woodall has concentrated on developing consistency with her long irons, working on the driving range almost every day. She played against Flack in several tournaments, and the two almost always finish side by side in the final standings.

"I think this year it will be between me, Kelly and Diana," Flack said. "There are a lot of players better than us at the state level, but in the county we're going to be competing a lot against each other. It should be fun."

"They've got to understand that they're both going to have an impact, and they don't have to fight for it," Severna Park Coach Paul Pellicani said of Flack and Lynch. "If they both play well, they've both got a chance. That's the important thing: They've had to watch Stephanie for two years. Now, it's their turn."

Severna Park's Kelly Lynch, above and below, is one of three golfers hoping to become the county's best this season. The others are teammate Christine Flack and South River's Diana Woodall.