Georgia team captain Sissi Gann called it her “dream team.”
And her players certainly lived up to that moniker at the 2009 USGA Women’s State Team Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club.
Dori Carter, 22, of Valdosta, Ga., carded a 3-under-par 69 and 15-year-old Mariah Stackhouse of Riverdale added a 70 on Thursday to give Georgia a nine-stroke victory over Alabama, becoming the first state to win multiple titles in the biennial competition that’s been conducted since 1995. Georgia also won the 2005 title at Berkeley Hall in Bluffton, S.C.
Georgia posted a 54-hole total of 436 (four over) on the 6,095-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus layout. The lowest two scores from each three-person squad are used in counting the team’s daily total. Laura Coble, 45, of Augusta, a member of the winning 2005 team, added a non-scoring 75.
Alabama, paced by a championship-tying 18-hole record 67 from 43-year-old Kathy Hartwiger of Birmingham, finished at 445 after registering an even-par 144 in the final round. Hawaii, which had never finished better than 10th, took third at 447. Mississippi (450) and South Carolina (451) rounded out the top five.
“Unbelievable,” said a teary-eyed Coble. “Those two kids … they are special. I don’t know what to say. We are drinking champagne tonight.”
Starting the day with a three-stroke lead over South Carolina and Hawaii, Carter, who took individual medalist honors by two strokes over South Carolina’s Dawn Woodard, put any doubts to rest about Georgia being caught by shooting 4-under 32 on the outward nine. Carter eventually got it to six under for the round after making three consecutive birdies from No. 13. Even a pair of three-putt bogeys on 16 and 17, and another bogey at 18 after hitting her tee shot into the water didn’t dampen her spirits.
“I started getting nervous when I made that bogey,” said Carter, who completed her eligibility at the University of Mississippi last spring and will graduate this December with a business management degree. “I think I was more nervous that I was six under par. I mean it was intense.
“When I walked off the [18th] green, I couldn’t believe I just did that (make three straight bogeys). But it’s cool that we still won. It’s been the most perfect day.”
Things also went south early for Stackhouse, a sophomore at North Clayton High. She triple-bogeyed the par-3 fourth hole and stood at four over for the round. Then she played her final 14 holes in six under, making four consecutive birdies from No. 7, including a chip-in at the eighth and a 30-footer from the fringe at the ninth. She added birdies at the par-5 12th and 15th holes.
Stackhouse had struggled on Sycamore Hills’ first nine the entire championship – she shot 41 in her two previous rounds – but kept telling herself that she wanted to get back to two over by the ninth.
Once she started making her birdie run, her confidence grew.
“I was sticking [my approach shots] and allowing myself [birdie] opportunities,” said Stackhouse. “And it was easy to keep going.”
Winning a national championship at 15 is pretty special as well.
“This is huge,” she said. “After Dori finished, I was standing with Laura, my dad and with Sissi and realized, ‘Oh my God, I have a USGA championship now. That’s amazing.”
Added Coble on Stackhouse’s ability to come back from the tough start: “She’s got a head on her shoulders that most 15-year-olds don’t have in those types of situations.”
Once Georgia got on its run, the rest of the contenders were playing for second and third place.
Hartwiger, the 2002 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion, stepped up with a six-birdie performance in tying North Carolina’s Brenda Corrie Kuehn (1997) for the lowest 18-hole round in WST history. Alabama added a 5-over 77 from 22-year-old Jordan Hardy of Birmingham, who was a last-minute substitute when Courtney Trimble left the state to take the head women’s golf coach position at the University of Central Florida.
“It helps in some respects not playing in the last group,” said Hartwiger, whose team was paired with Minnesota and Mississippi. “It really took the pressure off because I knew [Georgia] was shooting low. Sometimes I forget how to compete … and I got back to that today, which was really good.”
Hawaii snuck in for third and broke up the Southern states dominance, thanks to a 73 from 23-year-old Xyra Suyetsugu of Honolulu and a second consecutive 74 from the youngest player in the field, Kacie Komoto, 14, of Honolulu.
“We’ll take that,” said Suyetsugu, the eldest member of the squad and the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of Hawaii, her alma mater. “We came into this tournament not expecting anything. We were just trying to beat our goal, which was 10th. And we are happy to be where we are.”
South Carolina began the day tied for second with Hawaii, but even a 68 from Woodard was only good enough for a fifth-place showing. Woodard, who didn’t have a birdie in Wednesday’s second round, had eight in the final round and a double-bogey at the 10th cost the 35-year-old from Greer a shot to share medalist honors with Carter.
“The fact that I made eight birdies today is even more important to me than the 68,” said Woodard. “I felt like I was playing well. You can’t play defense. All you can do is play golf.”
Georgia did that well the entire week.