LEXINGTON, Ky. – That there was some late drama and some tense moments down the stretch after seeing a 16-shot lead all but evaporate on the final day of the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational didn’t make Sunday’s championship any less special. Far from it.
After a five-year championship drought and a tireless preseason of hard work, focus and persistence, winning the Bettie Lou title this weekend was historic and defining no matter how the Wildcats did it.
It left their head coach, Golda Borst, who has preached to her team a belief of breaking through glass ceilings this morning, nearly at a loss for words.
“I am just so proud of these girls that I am having a hard time finding words,” Borst said. “I was trying to tell them how I feel and I am just having a hard time finding them. But, I am just unbelievably happy and we hung so tough today. Penn State just played really hard and just put our backs against the wall. I am just extremely grateful for my girls being able to hang in there and staying tough."
Despite the push from Penn State, the UK women’s golf team went wire-to-wire this weekend to win the 29th annual Bettie Lou Evans Invitational. The Wildcats dominated for most of the weekend before hanging on late for a two-shot victory over the hard-charging Nittany Lions, who shot an 18-hole tournament record 278 Sunday to make things interesting down the stretch.
With a 54-hole school-record score of 858 (6-under par), Kentucky captured the program’s first team title since the fall of 2013 when they won the “MO”Morial Invitational.
Senior Leonie Bettel added the cherry on top by winning individual medalist honors for her second consecutive championship. After winning the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship three weeks ago, Bettel made history of her own by becoming the first Wildcat to win multiple tournaments in a season since Lauri Berles won two tournaments in 1995-96. Only All-American Kate Rogerson, who won four tournaments all the way back in 1986-87, has won more.
“I believe in them so much and I tell them much as I possibly can individually, but sometimes, as a team, you have to do something to believe it and to really see it and know it,” Borst said. “I have seen this coming for a while. Last year's team, we had a really solid team but we were never really able to play up to our potential, but this year is just a special group. They play for each other. They play for themselves individually. It is just a great group.”
Hoping to win their 12th Bettie Lou championship but first since 2011, the Wildcats left no room for doubt with the most impressive three-round stretch in UK women’s golf history.
The Wildcats stormed to an 11-shot lead with the second-best round in school history Friday, an 8-under-par 280. With second-round 66 from Bettel, Kentucky built on its big lead and made it a commanding – but not insurmountable – 16-shot cushion heading into Sunday.
Penn State got as close as two shots over the final few holes, but when it was all said and done, the Wildcats shot a 292 (4-over par) in the final round and crushed the 54-hole school record of 866 – done twice previously in the Borst era – by eight shots (258). Bettel beat the previous 54-hole individual school record of 208, set by Isabelle Johansson (February 2017 at the UCF Challenge) and Liz Breed (October 2013 at the Schooner Fall Classic), by three strokes (205).
“It is the stuff we talk about: When adversity hits us, how do you respond in that moment?” Borst said. “So, go back, process and just try to hit fairways and try to hit greens. … They know to keep grinding. That is all I kept telling them: Just stay in it. Just keep fighting.”
Nobody fought better than Bettel this weekend.
All three of her rounds were in red numbers this weekend to give her eight rounds of par or better in nine opportunities. As a matter of fact, in just three tournaments, her eight rounds of par or better is already tied for the third most in single-season school history and is just four shy of the record.
After a tournament-opening 71, a modest number by her recent standards, Bettel followed it with a 66 on Saturday and a 68 on Sunday. Penn State’s Cara Basso challenged Bettel late with three straight birdies and got as close as a shot after a Bettel bogeyed No. 16, but Bettel answered with a birdie on No. 17 and Basso lost her drive out of bounds on No. 18 to close the door.
Bettel made 17 birdies on the weekend along with an eagle.
“We just gave it our all,” Bettel said. “It’s our only home tournament we have during the year. You just want to give it your best, especially because it is at home and in front of our home crowd on home soil. We know this inside and out and we just wanted to give everything. It definitely worked out.”
Bettel wasn’t alone in leading UK to a championship. Everyone pitched in, several of who posted career bests.
Junior Sarah Shipley was one of them. She tied for 14th, her best finish of the season, with a 2-over-par 218, a career-low 54-hole score. Sophomore Rikke Svejgård Nielsen, fresh off her individual championship in the MSU Greenbrier Invitational just a few weeks ago, validated her strong start with a 218 as well. She was especially clutch on the back nine when Penn State applied pressure with a 2-under 34.
Freshman Casey Ott tied for 28th with a score of 222 (6-over par), both the best marks of her young career. Junior Josephine Chang contributed to the team score in two of the three rounds this weekend, including Sunday, and fired a 224 (8-over par) to tie for 32nd.
Kentucky also had three players playing individually. Senior Claire Carlin posted the second top-20 finish of her career with a career-best 219 (3-over par), sophomore Sarah Fite placed 56th with a 232 (16-over par) and freshman Ryan Bender tied for 67th with a 236 (20-over par).
A sensational fall that’s featured a number of school records, a team championship and three individual titles isn’t over with quite yet. Kentucky will try to add to an already impressive 2018-19 résumé at the Trinity Forest Invitational, Sept. 29-30, in Dallas. That will be the Wildcats’ final tournament of the fall before the winter break.
The Bettie Lou Evans Invitational, which was played at the U-Club’s Big Blue Course, is named after longtime UK head coach (1979 to 2001) and former director of operations (2002 to 2018) Bettie Lou Evans. Previously known as the Wildcat Fall Invitational before dedicating it to Evans, the tournament has been in existence since 1979. It was played every year until a four-year break from 1998 to 2001. There were also one-year breaks in 2007 and 2010 before a gap from 2012 to 2016.
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