Sara Hunt Women's State Amateur Medalist
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—Sara Hunt hasn’t played much tournament golf lately. Her duties with Golf House Tennessee, where she’s a counselor for the young players who attend summer skills clinics, have kept her pretty busy.
But Hunt did manage to sneak away for the Tennessee Women’s Amateur at The Honors Course this week, and after Monday’s qualifying round, she’s got a lot to tell her students when she gets back to work. Actually, there’s one specific lesson she’ll pass on.
“Hang in there,” said Hunt, a junior on Samford University’s golf team who earned qualifying medalist honors after a 1-under-par 71. “You’re never out of a round, because you can keep it going if you make some putts.”
That’s exactly what Hunt did on Monday to reverse the course of her round, which, through five holes, hadn’t been a ton of fun. A bogey at the par-4 No. 1 hole set an ominous tone, and though Hunt quickly gained back that stroke with a birdie at No. 2, a par-5, she made two more bogeys on No. 3 and No. 5.
When she faced a 10-foot par putt at No. 7, the devilish par-4, her round could have gone either way. A miss would have meant another bogey and perhaps beaten her confidence into submission. A make could re-energize her.
Fortunately for Hunt, her par putt fell into the cup. And that clutch stroke paid quick dividends. At the par-3 8th, she nestled her tee shot to two feet and made a birdie. At the par-4 9th, her approach landed just three feet away and she made another birdie to make the turn at par 36.
Another birdie at No. 12 took her to red figures for the day at 1-under, and from that point her putter saw her safely through the rest of the rest of the day.
At 15, the nasty par-4 that shares a lake with No. 7, Hunt pulled her drive into the water. She took a drop, and from 125 yards hit her third shot to 15 feet. Facing a downhill slider with a right to left break, Hunt calmly drained it.
“That kept the round going,” she said.
Further heroics were in store. No. 17, the sneaky par-5 that ruined many a tournament round in its day, was a huge obstacle on Monday, with more than one 10 recorded, thanks in large part to Big Bertha, the cavernous bunker that guards the left side of the hole.
Hunt’s second shot was swallowed by Big Bertha, but unlike some of her more unfortunate competitors, she was able to beat the ball out in one stroke. Her ball bounded into the rough that surrounds the green, and her next shot skidded 25 feet past the hole. Typical of her day, Hunt stood over the putt and rolled it in the jar.
“That pretty much summed up how my day went,” Hunt said.
Hunt played 18 without incident, made par and carded a back-nine 35.
Perseverance is nothing new for Hunt, a native of Columbia, Tenn. who started her collegiate career at Birmingham-Southern. When the school shocked everyone by dropping to Division III in 2006, she escaped across town to Samford, where this season she helped the school to its first-ever tournament victory, finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament and earned OVC All-Newcomer team honors.
“It was kind of shocking when it happened,” Hunt said of her former school’s decision to downsize its athletic program. “But things have worked out for me at Samford. We’ve got a good team that’s only going to get better.”
Because defending champion Dawn Woodard earned a bye into match play, Hunt claimed the No. 2 seed and will play No. 31 Mallory Bishop on Tuesday. Woodard will play Chattanooga’s Georgia McCravey, the No. 32 seed. McCravey, who shot 80, won her place in the championship flight in a five-player playoff.
Ole Miss’s golf team has strong representation in this tournament. Among the top four qualifiers, two are Lady Rebels—sophomore Jillian Brodd matched par with a 72, and freshman Ashley Lance, who red-shirted but didn’t play at Michigan State before lighting out for warmer climes in Oxford, shot a 74.
Sandwiched between those two was 15-year-old Kendall Martindale, who’s an old hand at tournament play. Martindale shot 73 and was qualifying medalist in the 2007 Tennessee Women’s Amateur, and she matched that score again on Monday.
Both Ole Miss players took the cautious approach on Monday. Brodd, from Knoxville, hit her driver off the tee just three times, and Lance reached for the big stick just once, preferring to hit 3-woods and hybrids in an effort to find the short grass, always imperative at The Honors.
Brodd, who has played The Honors twice before in The Baylor School’s preview tournaments, knew better than to force the driver on several holes, and she was the better for it. Like Hunt, she closed strong, making two back-nine birdies en route to a 35 that was marred only by a bogey at No. 18. That kept her from matching Hunt for medalist honors.
“You’ve got to be awake at The Honors,” Brodd said. “You’ve got to pay attention to every single detail. If you do that, you can shoot a low number out here, because the greens are perfect.”
Brodd, who traveled to every tournament as an Ole Miss freshman and missed out on Academic All-American honors by four tenths of a point, loves Chattanooga golf courses. She won the William Bryan Memorial two times at Lookout Mountain and in fact was sporting a yellow Lookout Mountain cap on Monday.
“Hey, it matches the outfit,” she said.
Brodd, the No. 3 seed, will square off against Lorrie Warren in Tuesday’s match play.
There’s more than one way to play—some might say survive—The Honors, and for young Martindale, the strategy was to pound her driver. She’s not the longest player in the state, but she’s one of the most accurate, and she found plenty of fairways en route to her 73. Her strategy left her a lot of wedges into greens—she carries four of them—and resulted in some makeable birdie putts.
Martindale, who helped lead Jefferson County High School to the Tennessee Class AAA championship last fall, cashed in four times, starting and ending her front nine with birdies at No. 1 and 9, and making a birdie at the par-5 11th to offset her lone back-nine bogey, which came at No. 12.
Lance had a bit more trouble with the back nine than Monday’s other low qualifiers, shooting a 38. But she turned in a clean front nine, closing with a birdie at No. 9 for a 36.