Kayla Holden (Kevin Price photo)
hit perhaps the prettiest 6-iron of her life Thursday afternoon into the 18th green on the Seaside Course to finish with a birdie at the last and pull out the victory in the Sea Island Women’s Amateur.
The University of Tennessee golfer stuck her approach from 165 yards into the elevated green about six feet below the hole and sank the putt for a three to claim a two-shot win in just the second edition of this tournament played at the Sea Island Golf Club on the Georgia coast.
“It was the perfect number,” Holden said of her second shot into 18.
Holden, from Port St. Lucie, Fla., figured she would have to do something special as she put it to win in regulation. Late in the round, she was tied for the lead with defending champion Hannah Levi
who plays at Mississippi State along with College of Charleston standout Emma Schimpf
But Schimpf fell out of contention when she couldn’t save par from a greenside bunker on the par-3 17th hole and then made a triple-bogey at the last when her second shot from a downhill lie in the fairway found a water hazard well short of the green.
Schimpf ended up settling for a 1-over 71 score on the day and a 2-over 212 total for the three rounds which left her tied for fifth overall.
Levi dropped a shot at the par-4 16th and parred the last two holes to post an even-par 210 score over the three rounds which included her 1-under 69 in the closing round. She would wind up tying for the runner-up spot this summer along with Kentucky native Laney Frye
who also shot even-par 210 for the week after a final-round 68.
Frye, who plays at the University of Kentucky and played earlier this summer in the U.S. Women’s Open, also tied for second last year in the inaugural Sea Island event as she finished at 3-under. Frye was the leader after the first round this week when she carded a 4-under 66 which stood as the best single-round score in this year’s tournament.
Levi, a Mississippi native who won last July at 7-under, started Thursday's final 18 five strokes back of second-round leader Caroline Patterson
who settled for a 75 over the last round after shooting 69-67 the first two days to take the lead into the third round.
Patterson, who is from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and will join Holden at Tennessee in the fall to begin her collegiate career, ended up solo fourth for the week at 1-over 211.
“I’ve known her for a long time,” Holden said of Patterson. “We played junior golf together. I was excited about playing with her today and look forward to playing with her at Tennessee.”
Holden began the day just two strokes back of Patterson as they played in the final pairing along with Ohio State senior Lauren Peter who would finish tied for fifth at 2-over.
Holden made eight pars and a bogey on her outward nine and made two birdies including the big one at 18 and a bogey on the par-5 15th hole on the back for a level-par 70 score.
A day earlier, she made an eagle at the 15th which got her into red figures and she would post a 68 for the second round. Holden started the tournament with an even-par 70 in Tuesday’s opening round.
Of course, the shot she will long remember is that 6-iron approach at the 18th hole on Thursday. It allowed her to close out what she said is the biggest win to this point in her promising career because of the strength of the field and the locale.
“Sea Island is a special place with a lot of history. A lot of great players have won here,” Holden said.
Now, her name is among the champions crowned at the renowned venue in coastal Georgia, where numerous amateur championships have been held for decades while Sea Island has also staged the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic hosted by the Davis Love Foundation since 2010.
Holden’s win by the seashore was also extra special because her parents were there for every shot. Her mom watched while her father worked with her as her caddy for the week. Russ Holden was a coach and caddy for two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and also runs Caddy for a Cure on the PGA Tour.
“He knows my game better than anyone, and I trust him,” Holden said. “He kept me calm out there.”
And, there was another reward awaiting Holden on the way home to Florida after playing in her final tournament of the summer this week. There will be a stop-off at the ever-popular mega-convenience store Buc-ee’s which has a growing chain of stores across the country.
She was promised a few delicious treats from there Wednesday night by mom if she won on Thursday.
“We’re going to the nearest one,” Holden said.
The closest location was a little more than an hour south down Interstate 95, fittingly just outside the entrance to the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla.
“I’m gonna get whatever I want,” she added.
Mom nodded in approval as she listened nearby.
ABOUT THE Sea Island Women's Amateur
Patterned after the highly successful Jones Cup
Invitational tournaments at Sea Island and Ocean
Forest Golf Club, which began in 2001, the Women’s
Amateur follows the Jones Cup tradition
of drawing the nation’s best female golfers to the
world-class setting of Sea Island. The format is 54
holes of stroke play with a field limit of 84 players.
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