CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. — After chasing Florida since the first round, Georgia rallied to win its fourth USGA Women’s State Team Championship, by three strokes, in the 11th edition of the biennial team championship conducted on the par-72, 6,203-yard Dalhousie Golf Club course. All three Georgia players – Lauren Lightfritz, Emilie Meason and Margaret Shirley – contributed to Georgia’s winning 54-hole score of 4-over 436.
“It's always a dream to win a USGA championship, and to be able to win it as a team is really, really special,” said reigning U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur champion Margaret Shirley, 29, of Atlanta. “It's a pretty golf course, but it’s a tough golf course, and it's one that if you make small mistakes, you're going to pay bigtime for it. The wind was just swirling everywhere [Saturday], and it made little mistakes come up, but we hung in there.”
Though Florida set the championship’s 36-hole team scoring record, the Sunshine State returned a total of 7-over 439, followed by a surging Pennsylvania at 12-over 444. The Keystone State bettered its second round score by seven strokes thanks to a round-leading 1-under 71 by Brynn Walker, 17, of St. Davids, one of only two players under par during the final round.
Shannon Johnson, 32, of Foxborough, Mass., also finished at 1-under 71 Saturday, helping the recreational ice hockey player set the championship’s 54-hole scoring record with an overall 4-under 212 to earn medalist honors. Johnson’s score helped Massachusetts to fourth place at 14-over 446, and Virginia rounded out the top five at 15-over 447.
Georgia’s consistency, combined with Florida’s slide to a 12-over-par total for the day, brought the Judy Bell Trophy back to Georgia, which also won in 2005, 2009 and 2011. Conversely, Florida has not won a Women’s State Team title since 1999, and this is the second consecutive year it has finished second.
“You can't spot a team like Georgia five [strokes],” said reinstated amateur and 2015 Florida Mid-Amateur champion Tara Joy-Connelly, 42, of Palm Beach Gardens. “It's not going to happen for you when that happens.”
Joy-Connelly and four-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, both of whom represented Florida in 2013, returned 6-over 78s. Kendall Griffin, 16, of Sebring, added a non-counting 7-over 79. All three posted their high score of the championship on Saturday.
“It was intense,” said Meason, 24, of Atlanta, about being grouped with Florida. “They kept with us the entire day, and I guess it was good for us to kind of see where we stood. They struggled a little bit, but it was good to play against some competitive people, and it only made us stronger.”
The Peach State’s youngest player, Lighfritz, 17, of Suwanee, contributed a 3-over 75, to combine with Meason’s 4-over 76 in the team’s comeback, while Shirley added a non-scoring 77. Lightfritz’s third birdie, on the par-4 17th hole, all but sealed the deal for Georgia Saturday.
“I just wanted to stay determined and do something for the team because my past two scores didn't count, so I fought to stay focused and was able to put it together,” said Lightfritz, the reigning Georgia Girls’ champion. “I started out with a couple birdies, but then I followed them up with bogeys. But 17 was definitely the turning point. I just felt determined and wanted to do something, so I did.”
Defending champion New Jersey finished 21st.
The United States Golf Association conducts the USGA Women’s State Team Championship on a biennial basis. It is open to teams of three players from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. This year’s field featured teams from 49 states and the District of Columbia – Vermont and Puerto Rico were not represented. Eighteen holes of stroke play were conducted over three days, with the two lowest scores of the three individuals counting as the team’s score for the round. The field was cut to the top-21 teams following Friday’s round.