Call it the Victoria Hills magic if you want, but the Stetson women’s golf team proved again on Tuesday that they are tough to beat on their home course.
The Hatters went into play Tuesday in the final round of the Holiday Inn Express/Hatter Classic trailing Daytona State College by three shots. Even though Stetson didn’t post its best round of the year, the team did well enough to pull out a two-shot victory.
McNeese State turned into the biggest challenger to end Stetson’s run of five straight wins in this event. The Cowgirls turned in a final round score of 311 to close to within two shots of the Hatters. DSC struggled on Tuesday, finishing with a 323, to fall into third place, seven shots behind Stetson’s winning score of 931.
“It was kind of surprising, I thought,” Stetson coach Floyd Kerr said. “We played fair, nothing great. But, the teams that were in contention faced the same deal that we did.
“I thought the setup of the golf course was tougher today and that the scores would be higher because of that. There were really a lot of tough pins out there today.”
The struggles in the final round are best illustrated by the fact that Stetson junior Sammi Smith (Louisville, Ky.) went into the final round with a five shot lead and, despite posting a final round score of 80, was able to maintain her five-shot lead to post her first college tournament victory.
“I didn’t have a great start with a double bogey on the first hole,” Smith said. I played solid from there on with one more bogey and a birdie on the back nine. I finished two over for that nine, which was pretty solid after my start.”
Smith ran into some bad luck again on her back nine, which was played on the front nine holes at Victoria Hills.
“I had a pretty good power lip-out on number two, which was my 11th hole,” Smith said. “That turned a chance at a birdie into a bogey. Then, on number four, I had a tough break with an unplayable lie in a bunker, but I thought a double bogey there was pretty good, considering where I was. It could have been a really big number.”
While Smith – who finished with a score of 224, five shots in front of Amanda Hall from USC Upstate – struggled on Tuesday, her teammates stepped up to help the Hatters run their win streak in this event to six years.
“We got some gutsy play from Claudia (Redinger),” Kerr said. “She played poorly on the front, but came back to shoot even par on the back, and that gave us a boost. Mallory Viera played her best round of the fall and was solid. Those two kind of gutted it out for us.”
Redinger (Durban, South Africa) finished with three consecutive scores of 78. Her 234 total was good for an 11th place tie. Viera (Howie-in-the-Hills, Fla.) closed with a round of 76, her second best of the fall, and finished tied for 16th with a 240.
“Mallory carried us today with the low round,” Kerr said. “That was significant and I was glad to see her come out and have a solid round. She has been struggling with her ball-striking, but that was better today. We need her to get ready for the spring. If she gets to playing well, along with Claudia, Sammi and the rest of them, we will be ok.”
Jenna Hoecker (Rochester, NY) posted a 79 in the final round to finish in 14th place with a score of 238. Ryan Ashburn (Largo, Fla.) struggled home with an 85 on Tuesday and finished tied for 23rd (244).
“All-in-all, I was pleased,” Kerr said. “We hung in today and that is all that you can ask. If you just keep plugging along, you never know what it going to happen, and here we are.
“I said early in the fall that I thought we were a 310 team. Our average is a little higher than that right now, but I still think this group has a lot of talent and when they get some more confidence they are going to shoot some pretty good scores.
With their four fall tournaments completed, the Hatters will turned their attention back to school work for the rest of the fall. When the players return to campus after the holiday break, they will go right back to work.
“We will crank up with our conditioning program when we get back for the first week of school,” Kerr said. “We’ll start back playing that first week of school because we play early, the first week of February.”
Smith said that going into the break with a victory under their belts should help the team for the spring season.
“I think this is great because it will give us a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “We have had some OK rounds this fall, but we have not really had a breakout round. Even though the numbers were not much better here today, we were obviously better than everyone else.
“The fact that we were able to pull things together, even though we had some adversity, and pull out a win, should really help our confidence going into the spring.”