With a group of experienced players returning and adding two South Carolina high school state champions and an experienced transfer who already had a college win on her record, Clemson coach Kelley Hester felt comfortable enough to make a prediction about this year’s team..
“With so many returners, I predict this will be our best year yet in my tenure,” she told The Golf Club newspaper back in July.
It ain’t bragging if you can do it, and after the first big event of the new season Hester’s team backed up her prediction.
In a field that included 14 teams from Power-5 conferences, Clemson closed with two outstanding rounds to finish in second behind Ole’Miss at the season opening Cougar Classic at Yeamans Hall in Charleston.
Clemson almost chased down the 2021 NCAA champs in the final round for the tournament title.
The Tigers shot the best round of the tournament in the second round when they posted a 275 total to shave a few strokes off the Ole’Miss lead.
Clemson entered the final round trailing the Rebels by 8-shots.
Ole Miss finished with an even par round of 284 while Clemson posted a 7-under 277, one shot short of catching the leader.
“I know we have a great group of ladies who are talented, work hard, and are a joy to coach. Should be exciting to see this relatively young group compete this year,” added the Tiger’s coach.
Hester’s season opening lineup was a mix of experienced players and some talented newcomers.
Sophomore Melena Barrientos helped Clemson make its run toward the lead and finished the tournament at 7-under par in fourth place.
Barrientos was the top Tiger last year at Yeamans Hall when she finished sixth in her first college tournament.
“Meléna just missed out on some playoffs this summer for the US am. Her iron play is a strength and that was on full display on those tricky Seth Reynor greens,” said the Clemson coach.
Annabelle Pancake carded a 4-under par 67 and Savannah Grewal finished at 1-under 70 for the 12 under par team total.
Grewal is a senior who this summer, along with junior Annabella Pancake, made the round of 32 at the US Amateur. She has been ranked as the top amateur in her native Canada.
Pancake became the first Clemson women’s golfer to advance to the round of 16 at the US Amateur.
Her summer resume also included second place finishes at the Texas Open and the Western Amateur as well as getting a start in an Epson Tour event in her home state of Indiana.
“Annabelle (t-13) and Savannah (t-21) did have exceptional summers and I’m proud of them for not skipping a beat and just continuing along that same trend. Both can hit it a mile and when the putter gets going, look out!” offered Hester.
A pair of newcomers filled the fourth and fifth spot in the Clemson lineup as Augusta transfer Chloe Holder and Sydney Roberts from Chesnee each contributed counting rounds to the Clemson total.
“Chloe is such a competitor, I knew she could adjust quickly with a year of college golf under her belt. Quite simply, I feel like she is one of those players who has an extra gear when it matters, that’s hard to find,” said Hester after Holder’s first tournament as a Tiger.
Roberts was last year’s SC AAA state champion. The Cougar Classic was her first event playing college length courses and two rounds in one day.
“Sydney is adjusting well but the 36 hole day took a toll and she just didn’t have much in the tank for round 3 today. She is a really good putter and will definitely be in the mix to continue traveling,” Hester said.
The lineup for the first event in Charleston was determined by qualifying and Hester believes with the kind of depth she has been able to bring in to the program there are other golfers who will have an opportunity to get some playing time.
“In addition to the traveling 5 we have depth at home as well. It should be exciting to see this relatively young group compete this year. We showed that we are up to the challenge,” concluded the Clemson coach.
The Tigers will next see action at the Schooner Classic in Norman Oklahoma starting on September 24th.
Scores from the Cougar Classic at Yeamans Hall. https://results.golfstat.com/public/leaderboards/gsnav.cfm?pg=team&tid=25954