Methodist redeems itself with Baytowne victory
DESTIN, Fla. – By the time his team had completed a title defense at Sandestin Resort’s Baytowne Golf Club on Tuesday, Methodist head coach Tom Inczauskis couldn’t help thinking, this is the way it should have been.
Methodist may have won this title a year ago, but when the real test rolled around in May – the NCAA Division III National Championship, played at Baytowne – the favorite fell. Methodist was looking for consecutive national title No. 16 that week, but instead finished third.
“This is the last time the five of them will ever be on this golf course,” said Inczauskis. It’s a fitting end.
Senior Loretta Giovannettone, the defending individual champion, called Baytowne the biggest motivator for Methodist this week, and it’s easy to understand why. The Monarchs, she noted, weren’t proud of their national championship showing last year. This return visit for the Golfweek Division III Invitational offered a shot at redemption from a position Methodist is not used to: underdog.
“I think that gave us the biggest power,” teammate Kelsie Carralero said. “Everyone was saying we were off the radar.”
The Monarchs put enough space between themselves and the rest of the field with a first-round 8-over 296 that no one could ever catch up. The Monarchs needed every bit of that cushion as the tournament wore on and Washington-St. Louis began to close the gap.
Washington-St. Louis, ranked No. 2 in Golfstat’s head-to-head ranking, outscored Methodist, the top-ranked team, by 10 in Round 2 to cut the gap to eight shots, then by two in the final round. Methodist, at 40-over 904, beat the Bears by six. Rhodes, the next-closest team, was another 24 shots behind.
“We knew it was close the whole time,” Inczauskis said of the final round. Both teams used a similar strategy: outscore the opponent in your group.
The match-up between the top two teams in the nation provided a good barometer for the state of women’s golf at the Division III level. It also provided compelling theater as Washington-St. Louis nipped at Methodist’s heels.
“It was one against two, and it was spectacular golf,” Inczauskis said.
While Methodist prevailed in the team competition, Washington-St. Louis sophomore Connie Zhou (pronounced Jo) succeeded in unseating Giovannettone as the senior fought hard to defend her title. Zhou’s final-round 71 – the only score under par on Baytowne all week – moved her to 3-over 219 (76-72-71), one shot ahead of Giovannettone.
“It’s really surreal,” said Zhou. “This is my first win so it’s a lot to take in.”
Despite that feeling, the big picture of the tournament wasn’t lost on Zhou.
“This tournament, we finally played up to our ranking.”
As for Methodist, the redemption victory at Baytowne went a long way toward restoring confidence. It’s the third victory in four starts this season, which means Methodist has effectively relinquished that underdog role. Inczauskis liked the idea of the team not drawing too much attention to itself early in the season, but the Monarchs are averaging as low as they ever have.
“You can’t hide 904,” Inczauskis said of the team score.
Indeed you can’t. The same wind and weather conditions greeted players at Baytowne this week as at last spring’s national championship. A 904 through 54 holes of the national championship, a 72-hole tournament, would have given Methodist a comfortable final-round lead.
That’s enough to inspire some deja vu in Division III women’s golf.