• • •
SANDESTIN, Fla. – Washington-St. Louis was in familiar territory as it headed down to the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational. The team had won two early fall events and was in fine form as it traveled south.
Only, last year the Bears proceeded to finish 10th at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort’s Baytowne Golf Club – posting 38 shots worse than the winning score. A year later, the result could’ve hardly been more different.
Even after two strong days, the Bears outdid themselves Tuesday, firing the round of the day by 11 shots to finish off a 33-shot win at the Golfweek Division III Fall Invitational.
Washington-St. Louis went wire-to-wire in this triumph, opening up a seven-shot lead after Day 1, doubling it over the following 18 and doing even more in the final round as a 13-over 301 pushed the group to a 48-over total (and well ahead of second-place Huntingdon).
Samantha Haubenstock earned co-medalist honors for the week with Washington and Lee’s Mary Frances Hall at 8 over, despite a late double bogey. (Erin Drolet, tied for fourth at 11 over, Chloe DiPetrillo, solo sixth at 13 over, and freshman Gigi Garcia, tied for 10th at 18 over, also finished in the top 10 for the Bears.)
The double title comes in the final event of the Bears’ fall season – a tournament the team had targeted on the schedule.
“We prepared to peak for this week,” said Ellen Port, Washington-St. Louis’ head coach.
The third-year head coach has noticed a different type of intensity and desire amongst this group, part of that arising from the fact that nearly every key player returned for the 2017-18 campaign.
Haubenstock, of Weston, Fla., is one of those big pieces. The sophomore, who closed in 3-over 75 in Sandestin, won three times in 2016-17 on her way to Women’s Golf Coaches Association Freshman of the Year honors.
She returned this season with no hankering for a sophomore slump. Haubenstock already had two top-three finishes on the season ahead of Sandestin and now she adds on a win to the 2017-18 campaign.
Actually, it could’ve been a solo victory. Haubenstock was in the lead by two with two to play before four-putting the par-3 17th. She managed to par 18 to hold on for the tie.
The same player topped a shot in a bunker the day before and shanked another in Saturday’s practice round. But, remarkably, it makes sense for none of this to faze Haubenstock.
Her unwavering focus keys into her strong play.
“She has a really calm demeanor,” said sophomore Emily Carnes, who placed T-14 at 21 over. “It’s really fun to watch her play.”
That attitude was on full display last spring at the NCAA Division III Championship.
Haubenstock qualified for the action as an individual but had to worry about finals while down in Houston.
So with play backed up one day during the tournament on a par 3, Haubenstock didn’t twiddle her thumbs. She started studying while her group waited to resume its round.
“I just got tickled with that,” Port said. “I thought that was so funny.”
To be fair, Haubenstock’s study break was more an extension of the Bear norm.
Washington-St. Louis is in the top 20 in U.S. News & World Report‘s national university rankings, making the whole team a studious bunch.
The group often jokes that it’s the team that’s always studying. At tournaments, they’ll congregate in hotel lobbies, noticing other teams passing to and from dinner while they hit the books sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.
“That is our team bonding,” Drolet said, with a laugh.
Well, certainly not all of it. Teammates will at times pull out intentional shanks in practice rounds to lighten the mood.
After Monday’s second round, a few took part in a range game where a player started her backswing and her spectating teammates called out a shot for her to hit – a shot she then tried to execute.
DiPetrillo was the master there.
She was also the one happiest to have a little fun with her coach this week.
Port is a seven-time USGA champion – she’s won four U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateurs and three U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs – and her most recent USGA title came just last year at the Senior Am.
She likes to balance as a coach, helping out when needed but also certainly willing to stand back and let her players control their own shots.
Still, Port’s continued competitive career gives her an extra bit of intel to aid her squad.
“Her help on course has been amazing,” Drolet said. “She has so much knowledge.”
The senior points to club selection as Port’s particular area of expertise. Strategy is also an important area.
Baytowne Golf Club’s par-4 eighth played in the 230-yard range all week, making the hole potentially drivable. But Port quickly decided against the aggressive play, as there’s a narrow opening to the green and thus not a huge reward for that risky option.
DiPetrillo, a junior, tried out a driver for one of her practice tee shots Saturday and actually found the green. From there, she joked with Port that she’d be hitting driver there in the tournament.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m going to do that every round,’ ” DiPetrillo said. “And she was like, ‘Chloe, you know what you have to do.’ ”
In reality, DiPetrillo (and the rest of the team) heeded Port’s advice.
DiPetrillo made a frustrating double bogey at the seventh in her second round, and reached for her driver at the eighth tee. With the pin tucked back-right, Port especially felt driver did little good on the hole that day.
She told DiPetrillo she could par the hole with an iron off the tee. DiPetrillo listened to her coach and did indeed come away with par.
“Sometimes you wonder (with players), like a parent, ‘Are they listening to me?’ ” Port joked. “There are moments where they’ll say something and it’s like, ‘Oh, they were listening!’ ”
Port said last year’s showing in Sandestin hurt them in the rankings and that they wanted to put themselves in a better position heading into the spring this time.
The Bears will wait almost five months for their next event, but a 33-shot triumph in the final event of the fall does just that.
“This is probably some of the best golf we’ve played,” Carnes said.
The Bears can now use the winter to study in peace.