After several near misses in the past three years the Clemson women’s golf team got their first tournament championship. The Tigers finished in a tie with Miami for the top spot at the UCF Challenge in Orlando.
While the Hurricanes and Tigers finished with identical 14-under par totals of 280 Clemson brought home the championship trophy on the strength of the score of their fifth player.
“This was a big win for the program, the first victory in our history,” said Kelley Hester, the Clemson head coach. “I am so proud of this team and the way they have worked,” she said.
Clemson had finished second in four tournaments during the past three seasons. The Tigers just missed a victory in the very first event they played as a team when Florida edged Clemson by one shot at the Cougar Classic in 2013. Clemson followed up that runner-up finish with another one at the Lady Paladin at Furman finishing behind Wisconsin.
One of the four second place finishes the program recorded came when Hester’s old team, Furman, topped the Tigers at the Yale Intercollegiate in 2015.
“We putted the ball well all week, especially today and we stayed patient. We had a couple of holes with big scores, but everyone held their composure,” said the coach.
Clemson was led by Alice Hewson. The Tiger sophomore shot rounds of 68-73-68 for a 7 under par total and a tie for a fifth place individual finish. Hewson finished four shots behind individual champion Chich Jessica Peng of Mississippi St.
“I really felt like Alice would make a good showing as she came back from the break with a conviction to really work hard and help lead the team,” the coach said.
The Tigers got an important contribution from the newest member of their team. Kennedy Swann enrolled at Clemson for the spring semester and played in her first tournament as a Tiger. Swann, from Austin, TX, shot a 54 hole total of 4-under par to finish in a tie for 12th. All three of the freshman’s rounds counted towards the team score.
“Kennedy played well in practice before the event and continued her great play at the tournament,” said the coach.
Ana Paul Valdes, Sydney Legacy and Jessica Hoang all contributed counting rounds during the tournament at the Eagle Creek Golf Club.
Valdes final round score of 75 did not count for the Clemson team score, but it made the difference when it came time to award the trophy. Valdes score was one shot better than Miami’s fifth player, Macarena Aguilera, who shot a 76 to give the Tigers the hardware.
Marissa Messana competed as an individual entrant. She carded a final round 2-under par 70 to finish in a tie for 45th place.
“The girls were solid all week. We got better everyday. It was an all around team effort. I think we made 50 birdies,” noted Hester.
The Tigers finished in front of eight teams ranked higher than Clemson in the Golf Stat ranking. Texas, Wisconsin, Kent State, Auburn and the host team from UCF all finished behind Clemson.
“We were the 9th best team in the field at UCF so we were able to compete with some really good teams. This should give the girls some confidence as we head into a strong spring schedule,” said Hester.
The Tigers will next compete in the All-State Sugar Bowl Championship in New Orleans starting on February 19th.