Belton survived a travel nightmare to win the women’s championship and Berkshire survived a do-or-die swing in the semifinals to win and retain his world No. 1 ranking in the event held at Cattails at MeadowView Golf Course.
Using borrowed clubs and competing on four hours sleep, Belton beat three-time world champion Phillis Meti in the finals, when her next-to-last swing produced a drive of 328 yards. Meti had posted a 326-yard effort on her first drive of the finals.
Belton was traveling to the Tri-Cities from Milwaukee on Sunday, but got stuck in Charlotte. She hitched a ride from a Golf Channel employee and got into Kingsport on Monday at 4 a.m. After an 8 a.m wakeup call, she went out and took care of business, still wearing the clothes she had on when she left Milwaukee a day earlier.
The tournament benefits Niswonger Children’s Hospital and the competitors paid a visit to the facility. Belton was still sporting a drawing of a trophy on her wrist done by one of the patients.
“This is one of the best places that we get to come,” said Belton, a 26-year-old from Louisiana. “Not even just the fans, but the town and being able to participate in the Farmers’ Market and so many things going on. It’s absolutely amazing.”
For Belton, the championship was a little revenge. She had lost to Meti by two feet in the finals on the tour’s last stop, at Rochester, New York.
“It felt really good to finally have a roll that went my way,” she said.
Meti had beaten local favorite, former East Tennessee State golfer Chloe Garner, in the semifinals with prodigious blast of 346 yards. Garner’s best of the week, 331, wasn’t good enough even though it was the second-longest drive of the entire women’s competition.
Berkshire beat Tim Burke in the finals for the third win of his career — his second in a row — and he saved his best effort for his final swing of the week.
Burke was in at 365 yards and Berkshire was having trouble finding his groove, but when he did, it was impressive. The winning drive was 409 yards, Berkshire’s longest of the week.
“I knew that was the flight I was trying to hit and I caught it square,” he said.
While many of the competitors yell when they catch one on the screws, Berkshire simply gets a satisfied look on his face when he watches a particularly long drive fly off the club.
“I speak softly and I carry a big stick,” he says.
Berkshire almost wasn’t around for the final after being tested in the semis. Defending champion Justin James had a poke of 390 on the board when Berkshire stepped up.
Seven balls in, Berkshire still hadn’t caught James. Then, as the three-minute clock wound down, Berkshire ripped one. The look on his face said he liked it. It was just a matter of staying on the grid.
When it stayed in bounds, it measured 398, putting him in the finals.
“On the seventh ball, I hit a good ball, it just didn’t turn over,” Berkshire said. “The eighth ball, I left the face open a little bit, but I was like ‘I think it’s got a chance to hang on.’ And it did. It’s great to walk away with another one.”
While no official announcement has been made, there was plenty of talk Monday that the event, in its second year, would be returning to Kingsport again next year.