By Beaux Yenchik, UGA Intern
Fruit Heights, UT – Having her dad fetch her driver to make the best drop available, Tess Blair was faced with the possibility of dropping a second straight hole, her lead and all the momentum. With a quick-chipping stroke, Blair watched with amazement, along with the entire gallery, as the ball found its way to the bottom of the cup.
This par save, on hole No. 9, was what changed the entire match for the 2018 Utah Women’s State Amateur Champion. Having just missed a 3-foot par putt on the previous hole, Blair looked to have given the momentum back to Jessica Sloot – this year’s runner-up – but instead started a domino effect that Sloot could never recover from. Sinking her winning putt on the 13th green from 4 feet out, Blair joined her sister, Sirene, in a long list of winners in the top women’s event in the state of Utah.
“I learned that I have what it takes to play clutch golf,” Blair said. “I learned that I can compete with some amazing college players. I look up to all of these girls in this field and to be able to compete with them means a lot to me.”
With a 6 and 5 victory Thursday afternoon, Blair played a brand a golf that many of us would be envious of. Hitting fairway after fairway and green after green, Blair’s game plan was working beautifully in such difficult playing conditions: windy, occasional showers and the pressure of playing in the championship match.
Yet, the Bingham High star did not falter – consistently relying on the advice, shot alignment and encouragement from her caddie-dad. Blair hit nine of 11 fairways and always put herself in a position to control the hole and not let things get out of control. Well, all accept what happened on hole No. 9 of course.
“My dad basically taught me since I was 8,” Blair said. “It is basically having my swing coach on my bag … He definitely contributed to this win as much as I did.”
With rain droplets coming down on the opening hole, it originally looked as this could be a long afternoon for the players and everyone involved. With each opening tee shot piped down the first hole, both players put their approach shots just shy of the green.
With Sloot having gotten up and down for birdie, Blair let her birdie putt slide by the hole – the only hole the entire match that Blair trailed to Sloot.
Then, just as many champions have before her, Blair responded. Winning the next three holes, Blair watched as Sloot unraveled with missed par putts and wild approach shots. Frustration was building for Sloot, and one couldn’t help but feel empathetic.
“I didn’t have my A-game this last match,” Sloot said. “[Blair] played amazing and I just got beat this afternoon.”
Sloot’s brief moments of sunshine came when her approach shot on No.5 kicked back into play instead of going out-of-bounds; when she sunk a 40-foot putt that broke left-to-right on the par-3 6th to win the hole; and her clutch par save on the eighth to climb back into the match and be down only one.
Other than that, as Sloot said herself, things were not clicking, and the putter was ice cold.
Following her chip-in on the ninth, Blair would go on to win the next five holes on her way to victory. When Sloot caught a bad break – like her lie behind the 10th green – Blair was there to capitalize. Even her supposed misses were more than likely just a couple feet or inches, depending on the shot, from where she originally aimed.
“In match play, you kind of try to expect everything to go in,” Sloot stated. “[Blair] has an amazing short game, so it definitely shocked me a little bit."
For a girl who thought she wasn’t good enough to hang with the college players in this tournament, definitely proved herself wrong. Her original goal – just try to make it to match play.
She was the low medalist by two strokes at even par. She beat the likes of Karen Valcarce (Westminster College) 7 and 6, Kaylee Shimizu (Utah Valley University) 3 and 2, Xena Motes 3 and 2, and Sloot from Colorado State University.
With tears in her eyes, Blair said: “I didn’t think I could do this. This is crazy.”
At the age of 17, the Utah golfing community can expect to see Blair around for years to come. The Sacramento State commit is only just getting started.
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