Talk about a comeback — for the East Tennessee State women's golf team and its coach.
The Bucs rallied over the final holes to win the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament on Wednesday. It was Stefanie Shelton's return to coaching four weeks after giving birth to a daughter, Madison.
The Bucs won by seven strokes over Kennesaw State. It was their third A-Sun title and it gave them the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Shelton had missed three tournaments during her maternity leave. In her absence, assistant coach Lauren Stratton ran the team.
"She did an amazing job keeping the girls going," Shelton said. "When I got back with the team for a practice last week, they were in a great state of mind. I knew we were ready to play."
ETSU won the tournament down the stretch, making eight birdies over the final five holes, including three by Sian Evans.
How important were the late birdies? Runner-up Kennesaw State didn't make one birdie on the back nine during the final round.
"Our girls put it together," Shelton said. "They have been playing well and then letting some shots go toward the end. This tournament, they weren't going to let that happen. That was the big turnaround for the team. They really pushed through and finished strong."
While the field average for the final round was 78.2, the Bucs had nothing worse than a 75. They had individual champion Vivienne Chin's 73, Linda Dobele's 74 and 75s from Evans, Lourdes Lopez and Gabriella Wahl.
Chin was a surprise A-Sun individual champion. She entered the tournament third on the team in scoring average, but beat the entire field by two strokes.
"Going into this championship, she wanted to play great for the team to win," Shelton said. "She had no idea she was winning. She asked me to walk the last few holes with her coming in."
Shelton knew where her sophomore stood on the leaderboard, but she didn't let her know.
When Chin tapped in a two-inch birdie putt on the 16th hole, she was up by three shots. Facing two tough closing holes, playing into the wind, she made a par and a bogey.
"With that wind, those last two holes have been unreachable for her," Shelton said. "She was so focused."
The Bucs, ranked 44th nationally, will find out where they will play in the NCAA regionals on April 28. Regionals will be held May 8-10 in Tallahassee, Fla.; Stillwater, Okla. and Elum, Wash. The NCAA championships are May 20-23 in Tulsa, Okla.
"We have three girls leaving and they want to do something special," Shelton said. "I feel good about our chances to make it to nationals this year."
Bristol's Jay Vandeventer will play on the Canadian Tour this year.
Vandeventer, who graduated from Tennessee a year ago, qualified by tying for eighth place at the tour's West site. He finished four rounds at Oak Valley Golf Club in Beaumont, Calif., six under par with rounds of 68, 71, 71 and 72.
PGA Tour Canada, as it is now known, will run 12 events, each with a $150,000 purse, from May to September. The top five money winners at the end of the year will earn status on the Web.com Tour.
The tour was taken over by the PGA Tour in 2012. The first event begins May 26 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The ETSU men's team will open play at the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament on Sunday. The three-day event is being held at the Legends Club in Braselton, Ga.
North Florida is the two-time defending champion. ETSU won its last A-Sun championship in 2010.
Fred Warren has coached 14 conference championship teams at ETSU. He won 12 in the Southern Conference, where the Bucs will be playing again next year.
Mark your calendars. The Tri-Cities Amateur Tour is just a little over a month away from beginning.
The Tillinghast Invitational gets things started May 31-June 1 at Johnson City Country Club.
Other events on the schedule are the Graysburg Hills Amateur (June 14-15), the Link Hills Invitational (June 28-29), the East Tennessee Amateur (July 4-6 at Elizabethton Golf Course), the Ridgefields Invitational (July 11-13) and the Lonesome Pine Invitational (July 19-20).
Seamus Power had to settle for a course record last weekend on the eGolf Tour.
The former ETSU golfer, shot a 64 during the second round of the developmental tour's Championship at St. James Plantation. It eclipsed the course record at the Reserve Club in Southport, N.C., by one shot.
The stellar round put Power in contention for his second win in as many weeks. But the Irishman posted back-to-back scores of 76 over the final two rounds to finish in sixth place.
Still, he managed to remain atop the eGolf Tour's money list with $35,414 in four events.
Power's next outing on the tour will be the Columbia Open, being held April 30-May 3 at the Columbia Country Club in Blythewood, S.C.comments powered by Disqus