PINEHURST — Tears again came to Sarah Bae’s eyes as she walked off the 18th green at Pinehurst No. 6 Golf Course Tuesday. But these were different tears from last year, when the Athens Drive golfer finished third individually at the 4A girls’ golf state championships only to realize later that her performance was enough to help capture a team title.
These were tears of happiness, gratitude and the sweet relief of a finally grabbing the girls golf championship that had been her goal since her freshman year.
Bae sank a 21-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to defeat New Bern’s Ashley Osiecki. The only qualifier from her school, Bae had no teammates to celebrate with this year, but her friends from conference schools like Fuquay-Varina, Middle Creek, Green Hope and Lee County rooted her on and were the first to hug her as she stepped off the green.
The senior, committed to play at High Point next year, shot a 74 on the second day for a 152 two-day total. She and Osiecki played the 18th hole twice in the playoff, both shooting par on the first playoff hole to force a second.
“My putting had been off all week. Somehow in the last playoff hole it went in,” Bae said. “I was so grateful to have people to support me.”
Bae is going out a winner, and so is her coach. Tony Alcon, who started Athens Drive’s girls golf program 11 years ago, is retiring from teaching after 30 years. His teams won the 2008, 2009 and 2011 4A championships, and Bae joins Katherine Perry (2009) as the program’s two individual champs.
The Jaguars were also runners-up for the team title in 2010.
Osiecki teed off first in the first playoff hole at the par-4 18th, sending her shot into the left side fairway bunker. Bae’s pulled up just short of the right side bunker.
But Osiecki powered her second shot out of the bunker, landed on the green and rolled within 15 feet from the cup. The pressure was on Bae, who put her next shot 25 feet away from the hole on the green. Both girls two-putted, and they played No. 18 again.
The second playoff hole was a near repeat. After their tee shots, Osiecki was in the left side fairway bunker and Bae was in the middle of the fairway. Osiecki turned again again to her hybrid and lifted a line drive that took a few bounces and rolled on the green 145 yards away.
“It kept some pressure on me,” Bae said. “She’s really competitive and it was incredible how she hit those shots twice.”
Alcon walked over to Bae and murmured the last advice he’ll give as a high school coach.
“He told me ‘Play the middle,’” said Bae.
And she struck it dead-center at the pin, giving her a 21-foot putt compared to Osiecki’s 30-footer. Bae’s putt broke left to right, crawling its way over the last few feet and dropping in.
In her four years, Bae has finished second, sixth, third and first in the state.
“She didn’t need a whole lot of help,” Alcon said. “Keeping her positive was the main thing... Nobody pratices like she practices. She is 120 percent devoted to the game.”
Green Hope, led by sophomore Meghan Symonds (T-3rd, 155), finished third overall behind champion Charlotte Ardrey Kell (490) and Southern Pines Pinecrest (501). It was the best finish in school history for the Falcons, who also had strong play from Sophie Riegel (172), Maddy Lee (178), Maddi MacClurg (180) and Amanda Yannoni (186).
“I’ve been struggling a lot with my golf. To finish third in the state is a big accomplishment for me,” said Symonds, who battled through injuries this year and was third-best on her team. “I’m really proud of our team because we went out and tried our hardest. Especially in these conditions it was really tough.”
Middle Creek’s Brittany Smith (161) tied for 10th, which gives the senior all-state status along with Symonds and Bae.
After the first day of damp and windy conditions, mostly thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the second day was cold and overcast, though some drizzle came and went in the late afternoon.
Other Triangle teams Middle Creek (554), Wake Forest-Rolesville (568) and Fuquay-Varina (595) finished seventh, eighth and 11th, respectively.
Other area finishers with two-day scores of 170 or lower are as follows: Fuquay-Varina’s Catherine Ashworth (162), Holly Springs’ Leigha Holt (163), Lee County’s Muk Shoomee (165), Wake Forest-Rolesville’s Amanda Levy (165), East Chapel Hill’s Becca Halter (167) and Heritage’s Rhea Bhatia (168).
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps