For the third time this season, Leonie Bettel is a champion. And now she is just one win away from entering Kentucky women’s golf lore.
Bettel sunk a clutch putt on the 72nd and final hole of the Clover Cup on Sunday to tie for first place for her third championship of the season. The senior from Austria tied three other players at 2-under-par 214 after a dramatic day that saw Bettel lose a three-shot lead and then rally back for the title.
In doing so, Bettel moved within one of Kate Rogerson (1987-88) for the most tournament titles in single-season history. Bettel won the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship and Bettie Lou Evans Invitational in back-to-back tournaments in the fall.
This one might have been the most satisfying given everything that went into this one, including losing the lead with a triple bogey on No. 5.
“I had a bunch of holes to play and there are a bunch of holes that I can play well and make birdie on and save a couple of shots,” Bettel said of her mindset at that time. “I was playing with the other two girls that were close to the lead or in the lead at that point. (My thought process was) they are going to make mistakes, I’m going to catch up a little bit, so I’ve got to just hang in there and stay in the moment and try to give it my best.
“It was very interesting. In the beginning, I was very excited to get on the course and get a low score. On the first hole, I thought I could get away with an easy birdie, but the bunker shot turned out to be somewhere else completely than I thought it was going to be. So, I was like apparently it’s not going to be as easy as I thought. So, I just kept grinding and stayed in the moment, and as I said before, gave it my best and tried to save as much as I can.”
With Bettel leading the way all weekend, UK finished third on a tournament-total 30-over-par 894. USC, the top-ranked team in the nation, won the Clover Cup with a 12-over-par 876. No. 31 Houston finished in second at 28-over-par 892. The third-place finish is UK’s second best this year.
“Leo has been in this position a couple of times this year,” said assistant coach Brian May, who was filling in for head coach Golda Borst. “After she made the triple on five, I was actually there on six. I just wanted to make sure she knew that she had plenty of holes left and plenty of birdie opportunities ahead of her, so I just tried to bring her back to the present moment and just hit the next shot.
The lone leader at the end of the first and second round, Bettel reported a 4-under-par 67 on day one and a 2-over-par 74 on day two.
In the final round at the Longbow Golf Club (par 72, 6,184 yards), Bettel incurred a dire start logging a bogey on the par-4 No. 2 and an uncharacteristic triple bogey on the par-4 No. 5. The pair of birdies on Nos. 7 and 9 to cap her front nine helped balance the halfway mark, 2-over-par 38.
Making the turn, Bettel would attempt to feed off the momentum she gained on collecting two birdies in three holes. A bogey on the par-4 No. 10 had the potential to unnerve but Bettel relied on her experience to finish in pursuit of an individual title. From hole No. 11 on, only markings of par or better would highlight the veteran’s scorecard.
On Saturday, May commented on the difference UK players need to make on par 5s, and it was the No. 18 par 5 that Bettel drew an exclamation point. There, she knocked in a five-foot putt to card a birdie and tie for first.
“She is a pretty special player,” May said. “She is having a good year. She has played well in some big-time tournaments and big-time events. We’re not done by any means, so it is special now and we want to make sure that it continues to be so and put her in good position to do well for herself and well for the team.”
Rikke Svejgård Nielsen, who danced in the top 25 in all three rounds, snuck up the leaderboard four spots by the end of the final 18 holes. Beginning the day tied for 25th at 8-over-par, the sophomore was on pace to match or score better than her first- and second-round totals.
She did just that thanks to a tournament-high four birdies reported in the final round, carding a 2-over-par 74. The sophomore finished tied for 20th, her third-best finish in 2018-19. The 2-over-par 74 ties for her second-best final-round score.
Looking for a break after reporting six bogeys on Sunday, freshman Casey Ott found one in the end. On the par-5 No. 18, the rookie fired an eagle to put a lid on her final round. Even with the six bogeys, Ott finished the round with a 3-over-par 75 with help from the eagle and a birdie on the par-4 No. 8. She tied for 25th at 11-over par for her second straight top-25 finish.
Sarah Shipley recorded a 5-over-par 77 in the final round on one birdie, four bogeys and a double bogey. In the final individual standings, the upperclassman finished 38th at 15-over-par 231.
Right behind her, sophomore Sarah Fite finished tied for 45th at 16-over par. She made a big move up the leaderboard by tying her career-low 18-hole score of 73. She shed nine strokes off her first-round score and four strokes off her second-round score
Playing as an individual, junior Josephine Chang also reported her best score of the tournament on Sunday. Chang logged a 3-over-par 75 in the final round, making her best 18-hole total in her last seven rounds. The junior finished tied for 55th at 19-over-par.
“The team has some good potential,” May said. “We’ve put good tournaments together and we’ve put good rounds together individually. I think what we’ve got to be able to do is have some confidence in each other and have some confidence within ourselves to go out and put three and four scores together every day. We’ve spent three days with the No. 1 team in the country and they’re no different. It’s all about execution and confidence and the belief in yourself, so if we could take some good stuff form this event that would be it.”
Still three regular-season tournaments remain on the schedule, as UK will compete in the Bryan National Collegiate March 29-31. Meanwhile, select UK players will head to Eastern Kentucky at the same time for the two-day Colonel Classic, March 29-30.