On moving day at the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational, the Kentucky women’s golf team stayed right where it wanted to be, atop the leaderboard, while a familiar face, senior Leonie Bettel, made her charge to the top of the individual field.
Led by Bettel’s 6-under-par 66, the Wildcats remained in first place heading into Sunday’s final round at the University Club of Kentucky. UK couldn’t quite match what it did Friday – which was no small feat considering the Wildcats almost shot a school record – but with a 286 on Saturday, a top-10 round in the Kentucky record books, UK owns a commanding 16-shot lead over Penn State (6-over par) at 10-under par as it searches for its first team championship since September 2013 at the “MO”Morial Invitational and the first Bettie Lou team championship since 2011.
The Bettie Lou conclusion will begin Sunday at 9 a.m. with a shotgun start on the Big Blue Course (par 72, 5,947 yards). Live scoring will continue to be available at GolfStat.com, but fans are encouraged to attend with free admission. The first two days have been met with a mix of sun and clouds and temperatures in the mid-80s. Similar conditions are expected Sunday with only a slight chance for rain.
“You never know how you are going to come out after shooting 8-under par and they handled it well and again kept calm, kept patient,” Kentucky head coach Golda Borst said. “We were not rolling in as many putts as we were yesterday, but they were calm and we kept fighting. We played the back nine better. It was good to see them fight back on the backside today and come out strong.”
The Wildcats were coming off a 280 in the first round, just three strokes off the school record. That wasn’t in the cards for Saturday, but UK held its ground with three players in the top 10 and five in the top 15, four of which are playing for the Wildcats’ team score. All five of UK’s team scores are in the top 26.
Bettel leads the way for Kentucky at 7-under par after her seventh round of par or better in eight opportunities this season. Toledo’s Pimchanok Kawil is a stroke behind at 6-under par after setting the Bettie Lou 18-hole record with a 65 in the second round.
For Kentucky, sophomore Sarah Shipley is in a tie for sixth at 1-under par and junior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen is tied for eighth at even par. Sophomore Josephine Chang posted UK’s second-best round Saturday, a 72, to put the Wildcats in a position they haven’t been in in five years.
“New day tomorrow,” Borst said. “New challenges. The golf course will be different. Their bodies will feel different. We have a really great opportunity tomorrow to do something that this program hasn’t done in a while: win a tournament. I told the girls, we can really break glass ceilings, which is on our mission statement. It is what we want to do. This is what you want in golf. You want to put yourself in a position to give yourself an opportunity to win. That is what we have done. So, I just want to see that same calmness, that same focus, that same discipline that I have seen the last few days. I just want them to go out and enjoy it.”
The Wildcats are not only aiming for a pair of championships Sunday, they’ve got a very good shot at recording the best 54-hole score in the school history. At 10-under par, UK achieved its best 36-hole in program annals (with records dating back to 1987).
Bettel, of course, has played a big part in that.
Perhaps overlooked Friday because of a combination of how great she’s been early in the season and how well everyone else in UK colors played, Bettel – coming off the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship victory – was quietly lurking in the top 10 and waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Bettel had a remarkable four birdies and eagle on the front nine but it was the way she kept it together during potentially round-derailing moments that propelled her to low numbers Saturday. After missing a short par putt on No. 2, she came right back with two birdies. And then on No. 5, when she was faced with a bunker shot against the lip of the trap, she saved par, paving the way for a sensational stretch to end the front nine.
She went eagle-birdie-birdie on Nos. 7, 8 and 9 – the third time this week a Wildcat has gone 3-under par or better on those three holes – highlighted by a near-double eagle on No. 7 when she hit the flagstick and a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 8.
“I was about 170 meters out, but it was up the hill and the wind was still helping so I thought that hybrid would be the right shot,” Bettel said of her shot on No. 7. “I thinned it and I was just hoping that it would not go into the bunker. It actually hit the flagstick dead center and it was just three feet away from the hole. It made it very easy to make the eagle. I just heard it hit the flag and (assistant coach) Brian (May) laughing so I figured it would be close.”
Bettel’s 66 is tied for the second-best score in 29 years of the tournament, it’s the third-lowest score of her career and it’s tied for the seventh-best score in school history. She too has a crack at history for the lowest 54-round in school history. Two different players (Isabelle Johansson in February 2017 and Liz Breed in October 2013) both shot 208.
“Knowing that she didn’t have the low round yesterday, I had a strong feeling that she would come out and be on fire today and be a little more aggressive,” Borst said. “I think yesterday she was kind of nervous knowing that she won two weeks ago and knowing what she wants to do this week. So, it was good that she had a decent round yesterday and have a free round today and go low.”
Chang bounced back nicely Saturday with an even-par 72. She was part of the birdie brigade early in the first round but fell victim to the high winds on the back nine for a 77. On Saturday, she held it together when the wind kicked up again with back-to-back birdies on holes No. 13 and 14. She’s tied for 26th.
Shipley is still very much in the mix for an individual title at 1-under par overall. She shot a 74 Saturday.
Svejgård Nielsen entered the day in sole possession of first. She fell back to the field with a 76 but is in great position for another top-10 showing after debuting with a championship at the MSU Greenbrier Invitational last month.
Freshman Casey Ott is seeking a career-best finish. She is currently tied for 14th at 2-over par after a 74 on Saturday.
Senior Claire Carlin is leading Kentucky’s three individuals. She followed an even-par 72 in the first round with a 74 on Saturday. She’s tied for 14th.
Sophomore Sarah Fite is tied for 35th at 7-over par and freshman Ryan Bender is tied for 61st at 14-over par.
The Bettie Lou Evans Invitational, which is being played at the U-Club’s Big Blue Course, is in its 29th year of play and named after longtime UK head coach (1979 to 2001) and former director of operations (2002 to 2018) Bettie Lou Evans, the tournament is being played for the second straight year after a five-season hiatus.
UK has won the tournament 11 times, the last of which was in 2011, but Grace Rose shared individual medalist honors last season as a senior. 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.
This year’s field features Akron, Columbia, Eastern Kentucky, East Tennessee State, Indianapolis, 2006 champion Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, defending champion Notre Dame, Penn State, Toledo, Western Kentucky and, of course, UK.