WINTER HAVEN – Starting the day in second place at the Sunshine State Conference Women's Golf Championships, Florida Southern made a run at first-place Nova Southeastern on the front nine, but the Sharks pulled away on the back nine and won their first league title since 2012.
With the Mocs trailing Nova Southeastern by four shots at the top of the standings going into the final round, those two teams were the last to hit the course Tuesday morning at The Country Club of Winter Haven. The Sharks were led by Janelle Johnson in the early going (two birdies on the first five holes), which enabled them to open up an 8-shot lead, but senior Britta Bernth and junior Abbey Williams cut into that deficit for the Moccasins with birdies on 4 and 3 respectively, bringing it back down to six.
After a slipping a bit over the next few holes, the Moccasins drew closer again when the first players from both teams made the turn. That was Johnson for Nova Southeastern and freshman Amanda Gartrell for Florida Southern. Johnson had two bogeys and a double on 7, 8, and 9, which allowed Gartrell to slash two strokes off the deficit for the Moccasins, bringing them back within six.
On the back nine, however, Nova Southeastern's four counters played those holes at four-over while Florida Southern was nine-over. That dropped the Moccasins from second to fifth where they finished 12 shots behind the Sharks. The win for Nova Southeastern came under former Florida Southern golfer Heather Wall (Burgner) in her first year as the Sharks' head coach. She played for the Moccasins and current head coach Robbie Davis from 2005-09 and helped Florida Southern win the SSC title once as a player.
Three teams actually shot better than Nova Southeastern on Tuesday, with Saint Leo and Florida Tech turning in a 292, and Barry right behind them with a 293. That put Saint Leo and Florida Tech in a tie for second place, five shots behind Nova Southeastern for the best finishes for either team in the history of the SSC Tournament. Barry took fourth place, finishing six shots behind the Sharks.
Barry's Charlotte Puts won the individual title with a three-round total of 216 (even par), edging out 2-time SSC champion Marie Coors by one stroke. Puts and Coors each shot a 73 on Tuesday, and went back and forth all day, with Puts playing five groups ahead of Coors after taking a one-stroke lead at the end of round two. The two golfers were tied when Puts officially finished her round, but Coors was in the process of back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14 that dropped her two strokes back. She nearly made a big comeback on 18 with a chance to tie Puts with a putt for eagle but ended up with a birdie instead.
Puts is the second Barry golfer in the last three years to win the title, joining Nicole Ferre who won in 2015. Puts is only the third golfer in the tournament's 19-year history to finish with a final score of even-par or better, with Ferre posting a winning score of one-under par 215 during her title-winning tournament two years ago, and Florida Southern's Emily Rymer turning in a 216 that same year.
Nova Southeastern's Michelle Ruiz was third with a 221 (+5), and Williams was tied with Lynn's Krissy Ortiz for fourth place with a 222 (+6). Williams had a final-round 77 after shooting a 74 and 71 in the first two rounds. It was the first top-five finish for the junior in her three trips to the SSC Championships.
The Moccasins' best score Tuesday came from fifth-year senior Shannon McKew, who carded a 76. She had par or better on 14 of 18 holes, was even over the back nine, and one-under for the final five holes. That pushed her into a tie for 14th place in the final standings with an overall score of 226.
Sophomore Tori Higgins shot a 78, and after starting four-over for the first eight holes, she played the final 10 at two-over to post a total score of 227, which tied her for 17th. Bernth and Gartrell each had a 79, though Bernth nearly matched McKew on the back nine by playing those holes at one-over. Bernth was tied for 25th with a total score of 232, and Gartrell tied for 30th with a 235.
Florida Southern is still in the running for a bid to the NCAA postseason, with those teams being announced on Monday, May 1. The top 12 teams in the South Region will earn those spots, with that tournament being played May 8-10 in Elgin, South Carolina.