Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Freshman Wahl Plays Beyond Her Years

ETSU Coach Stefanie Shelton encourages Gabriella Wahl in the sudden death playoff.

Gabriella Wahl played her game for 53 holes.

The freshman from Heidenheim, Germany, fired a first-round 67, tying the A-Sun record for a single-round total and giving her a first-round lead. She maintained her lead after the second round, shooting a one-over-par 73 to begin Wednesday’s final round with a one-stroke lead on Mercer’s Lacey Fears and ETSU’s Sian Evans.

Wahl followed her plan all afternoon in the final round – keep the emotions in check, bring her game to the course and concentrate on and hit each shot. The first and second-round leader of the 2012 Atlantic Sun Women’s Golf Championship took a one-stroke lead into the final hole of the 54-hole championship, but needing two putts to win, began to feel some pressure as she stood over her first putt on the 18th green.

“I try not to play against my opponents and think about what they are doing, but that is what I did on 18 today,” Wahl says.

As the final group of KSU’s Ket Preamchuen, Mercer’s Lacey Fears and Wahl walked onto the green, Wahl was clinging to a one-stroke lead over Fears. With Fears relatively assured of a two-putt, Wahl ran her first attempt six-feet by the hole. Her second putt ran back past the hole six feet in the other direction, but still the youngster showed no sign of a loss of composure. She drained the third to tie Fears on the hole, leading to a sudden death playoff.

“I got a chance as coach to walk along Gabriella and to be there for her as she began the playoff,” said ETSU Head Coach Stefanie Shelton. “We did not talk about anything but the shot she was preparing to hit. We talked about her hitting the shots the same way that she did earlier today, and that is how she plays the game. She took it shot by shot, and that is what enabled her to come out on top.”

Wahl was consistent and made no mistakes in the two-hole playoff victory. While both missed the fairway with their drives on the second hole, Fears found the fairway bunker. Fears was able to come out of the sand, but left her second shot 25 yards left of the green. Wahl knocked her approach to within 18 feet and two putts gave her the victory. The win was Wahl’s first ever opportunity to even compete in a playoff.

The playoff was the first in the A-Sun championship since 2003, when Georgia State’s Lisbeth Meincke won the individual title in a four-hole playoff. The individual title was also ETSU’s third in the last five years, as Laura Jansone earned medalist honors in 2010 and 2008.

For A-Sun Women’s Golf, Wahl’s win seems to be ushering in a youth movement. Kennesaw State claimed the team title with a sophomore and four freshmen, while four freshmen and four sophomores joined only two seniors in the tournament’s top 10, giving a good indication that women’s golf is headed in the right direction.

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