When is a fifth place finish a first?
When the Clemson women’s golf team turned a fifth place finish at the Athens, GA. Regional into a trip to the national championship.
The fourth year program will be making its first trip to the national championship.
The Tigers were ranked 39th in the GolfStat college rankings going into the tournament.
Clemson will be the second lowest ranked team to make the finals to be played at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois starting on May 19th.
Only 47th ranked Oregon was a bigger surprise making the NCAA finals than the Tigers according to the rankings.
Clemson didn’t have their best round in the final round, but it was more than good enough to lock up one of the spots in the top-six that allows Clemson’s season to continue.
Clemson finished two shots in front of ACC rival North Carolina for the fifth spot. None of the Tigers finished the final round under par, but the team total of 10 over par was still good enough to easily advance.
“This team followed the game plan the entire tournament,” said Clemson coach Kelley Hester. “We didn’t make putts like we did yesterday (when the team shot 282), but we were steady. We were a little nervous trying to close down the stretch, but we made it and it feels great,” said the coach.
Junior Marisa Messana had the Tigers best round in the final round. Messana, whose scores had not counted in the first two rounds, shot a 1-over 73 and was the top Tiger.
“Marisa was one over after nine holes and she seemed frustrated. She thought she should be scoring better. But I told her some days good is good enough. Just be patient,” Hester recalled.
Alice Hewson had been in the hunt for medalist honors, but a triple bogey on her 16th hole knocked her back into a tie for eighth place.
In the second round two Clemson freshman pushed the Tigers up the leader board. Ana Paula Valdes shot a 3-under par 69 and Kennedy Swann added a 2-under par 70. Neither golfer matched their second round scores, but they still played well enough to help this Clemson team make some history.
Sydney Legacy carded a 76 to tie for 37th in the individual standings.
Advancing out of the Regional in Athens had to be extra special for Hester, who both played and coached at Georgia. A part of the Clemson team’s motivation was to play well for their coach.
“We wanted to qualify for Coach Hester, but I think it was more important that she set up a good plan for us because she had such a strong knowledge of the course. She had a great game plan all week,” said Alice Hewson.
Alabama won the Regional by 14 shots over Northwestern, Michigan State and Baylor finished in front of Clemson and will join the Tigers and the Tarheels as NCAA finalists.
While this is the first time a Clemson women’s team will play in the finals it is not the first appearance by a Tiger in the tournament.
Last year, Lauren Stephenson played as an individual entrant. This year Stephenson, playing for Alabama after transferring last year, finished in a tie for second place.