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Monday, April 24, 2017

South Carolina's Dambaugh a deserving SEC champion

   Her future has been calling Katelyn Dambaugh, the South Carolina senior from Goose Creek, S.C., all year.
   The talented left-hander unfurled one of her bursts of brilliance when she fired a 5-under-par 67 in the opening round of Stage III of LPGA Qualifying School at LPGA International’s Jones Course last fall. A top-20 finish would have earned her an LPGA Tour card providing she turned pro immediately.
   When she finished tied for 35th at the end of the 90-hole marathon, she said the plan all along was to earn some status on the developmental Symetra Tour for the summer following graduation in the spring.
   Earlier this spring Dambaugh accepted an invitation to play in the ANA Inspiration, the first major of the year on the LPGA Tour. She shot a pair of 80s and missed the cut, but she got a close-up look at the big leagues of women’s golf.
   Through it all you got the feeling that there was some unfinished business for Dambaugh back at South Carolina. And maybe a little of that business got taken care of in the final round of the SEC Championship Sunday at the Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Ala.
   Dambaugh fired a 6-under 66 over the 6,202-yard, par-72 Greystone layout to capture the individual title by a shot with a 12-under 204 total. It was only her second individual collegiate victory and her first in the SEC Championship.
   But it is not easy to win an SEC individual title. Of the 64 players who qualified for match play at last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club, eight of them, by my count, were in the field at Greystone this weekend. And that doesn’t count Dambaugh’s South Carolina teammate Anita Uwadia, a freshman from Nigeria who didn’t make the lineup for the SEC Championship for the Gamecocks.
   A look at the SEC leaderboard at the end of play Sunday might very well be a glimpse at an LPGA leaderboard five or 10 years down the road. So that’s who Dambaugh had to beat.
   “It’s the best feeling ever,” Dambaugh, the runnerup to UCLA’s Bronte Law for the Annika Award a year ago, told the South Carolina website. “I have been so close recently and I love coming here. Being able to win at one of my favorite golf courses is pretty special.
   “I just went out there and played and me and coach (Kalen Anderson) just went out there and tried to have fun. She said if we had fun, we’d do some special things – and we did.”
   Anderson was on the bag for Dambaugh at Rolling Green last summer. I got to watch two of Dambaugh’s matches, including her 2 and 1 loss to Japanese teen-ager Nasa Hataoka, who did earn an LPGA Tour card that week last fall, in the round of 32.
   Dambaugh possesses a self-assuredness that you see in people who always seem to be making the right decisions. She is the kind of player who will be an asset to the LPGA Tour when she finally gets there.
   Dambaugh ripped off three straight birdies to close out her front nine Sunday and she was on her way.
   And she needed to be good to hold off Georgia’s Harang Lee, a senior from Spain. Lee added a final-round 69 to rounds of 69 and 67 to finish a close second to Dambaugh at 11-under 205.
   On the team front, Florida, No. 8 in the latest Golfstat rankings, kept the pedal to the metal in the final round, carding a 10-under 278 to wrap an impressive 13-shot victory with a 22-under 842 total over two pretty strong teams, No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Georgia. It was the first SEC title for the Gators since 2008.
    The top-ranked Crimson Tide got off to a slow start with a 7-over 295, but they were coming on strong down the stretch. They improved 10 shots to 3-under 285 in the second round and 10 shots again in a sizzling 13-under 275 finish to end up tied with the Bulldogs for second at 9-under 855. Georgia was under par in every round, going 1-under 287 in the opening round, 6-under 282 in the middle round and 2-under 286 in the final round.
   No. 13 Arkansas was two more shots behind that pair in fourth at 7-under 857 after a final-round 287.  Like Georgia, the Razorbacks were under par in each round. No. 20 Texas A&M and Dambaugh and No. 11 South Carolina shared fifth place at 4-under 860. The Aggies matched par in the final round at 288 while the Gamecocks, with Dambaugh leading the way, carded a 4-under 284 in the final round.
   Florida had three players finish in the top seven in the individual standings, led by Kelly Grassel, a senior from Chesterton, Ind. who had the best round of the day Sunday with a 7-under 65. That left her alone in third place, three shots behind Georgia’s Lee at 8-under 208.
   Maria Torres, a senior from Puerto Rico, was another shot back of her teammate at 7-under 209 and alone in fourth place after a final-round 71. Taylor Tomlinson, a junior from Gainesville, Fla., finished in a six-player logjam tied for seventh at 4-under 212 after finishing up with an even-par 72.
   Also for the Gators, Karolina Vickova, a senior from the Czech Republic, finished tied for 13th at 3-under 213 after a 2-under 70 in the final round and Marta Perez, a freshman from Spain, finished tied for 42nd at 8-over 224 after a final-round 73.
   Hard-charging Alabama was led by Cheyenne Knight, a sophomore from Aledo, Texas who matched Dambaugh’s final-round 66 to end up tied for fifth at 5-under 211. Knight was joined at that figure by Texas A&M’s Maddie Szeryk, a junior from Allen, Texas who posted a final round of 1-under 71.
   Knight’s teammate, freshman Kristen Gillman, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion out of Austin, Texas, was in that group of six players tied for seventh 4-under 212. Gillman added a 1-under 71 to Alabama’s final-round charge.
   Arkansas had two players in that group that finished tied for seventh at 212, Alana Uriell, a junior from Carlsbad, Calif., and Kaylee Benton, a sophomore from Buckeye, Ariz. Ariell had a pair of 72s after opening up with a 4-under 68 while Benton saved her best for last, a 3-under 69 in the final round.
   Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, a sophomore from Rocky River, Ohio, backed up her teammate Lee as she also landed at 4-under 212 with a final round of 3-under 69.
   The last member of that sextet at 212 was Tennessee’s Micheala Williams, a freshman from Athens, Ala. who had a strong finish with a 3-under 69 in Sunday’s final round.

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