By Tim Cronin
“I can’t believe it! We tied!” Kelly Barker said when looking at her and Elizabeth Stalla’s scorecards Wednesday at Glenwoodie Golf Course in Glenwood. “Now what?”
A sudden-death playoff, of course.
Barker and Stalla posted 19-over-par 91s that took varying paths to the final number. They then embarked in an odyssey that was as dramatic and filled with more surprises and swings in momentum as any of the previous 15 playoffs in Challenge history since the championship’s inception in 1989.
How’s this for a three-hole adventure over a pair of par 4s and a par 3: Barker, 5-6-8; Stalla, 5-6-9.
This was scrappy rather than sloppy golf. When Barker tapped in on the 145-yard third hole for a quintuple-bogey 8 after dunking a pair of balls in the water of the par-3, she could claim the first repeat victory in the division awarding the Carol McCue Trophy since Angela Dehning won four in succession from 2003 to 2006.
It was a wild way to all but conclude her junior career. The 18-year-old Palos Heights resident has graduated from Marist and will attend Benedictine University in Lisle in the fall.
“I’m been trying to play as much as I can, but this is my first tournament of the summer,” Barker said after the 21-hole test.
Her 6 on the par-5 18th hole forced extra holes when Stalla, going into her junior year at Evergreen Park, posted a double-bogey 7.
Matching bogeys on the first playoff hole, Stalla two-putting from 15 feet and Barker matching her from 36 feet, moved the duo to the second, where a pond fronting the green makes approaches more than routine.
Barker’s second from a perfect lie in the fairway landed in the grungy hazard and trickled back into the pond. Stalla hammered her approach from the left rough well over the back of the green.
Since she didn’t clear the hazard, Barker had to hit her fourth across the pond, landing 25 feet past the cup. Stalla had a difficult third, a pitch to a green running away and with the pond behind it. And when she hit it, her heart was in her mouth.
“It was a very tough shot; I couldn’t really see the green or anything,” Stalla said. “I was just praying that it didn’t go in the water. I’m just glad it stayed somewhere within play.”
It stopped on the far fringe. From there, Stalla putted to within 18 inches, and after Barker two-putted for a double-bogey 6, looked to be able to wrap up the title with a tap-in for a 5.
In a playoff, there are no easy tap-ins. Stalla’s putt horseshoed out. She, too, would make a 6.
“It was not my best putt,” she deadpanned later. “I thought I had it. It was just my nerves getting to me. At least I knocked it in for the tie.”
What followed was surreal. Both players splashed their tee shots into the pond on the forced-carry hole, and by a large margin. From the drop zone, Stalla airmailed an iron over the green and into the creek well behind it near the fourth tee.
“My rangefinder kind of shot the tree behind instead of the actual pin,” Stalla said. “It read 115 instead of 67.”
Advantage Barker? Only until she chunked her third into the pond again.
“It might of been a combination of us being utterly exhausted, but we both wanted to keep pushing to see how far we could actually take it,” Barker said.
What happened was Barker finally hitting dry land while Stalla was well short, and Barker eventually two-putting for a quintuple-bogey 8 from 20 feet. Stalla missed her tying putt and settled for a 9.
“I was putting really, really well today,” Barker said. “I was happy with that.”
And the victory. Stalla at least gets to try again next year.
Danielle Collina of Palos Heights was third, firing a 107.
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