Between the time of year and some internal drama that cut his roster to the bone, the Jacksonville State women’s golf coach was hoping just to have five players to field a team and be able to finish his own season-opening tournament.
Given that backdrop, the Gamecocks blew away the limited field, setting a couple school and tournament records in the process, and won their Chris Banister Golf Classic at Silver Lakes for only the second time since 2005.
The Gamecocks shot 6-over-par 294 in Tuesday’s final round to finish with a 54-hole school-record 881, missing the tournament record by just three shots and winning by a whopping 40. Sophomore Melani Sisto won medalist honors with a birdie-blazing school- and tournament-record 7-under-par 209, 14 shots ahead of her closest challenger.
“This is one pleasant surprise,” Hobbs said. “I hadn't had a team ever play quite this good here in my career. I hope this is a lead-in to our season. I think back to Chattanooga a couple years ago when they won the tournament here and they went on to win four straight. I'm not sure we can do that, but I'd like to see us capitalize on this and get off to a real, real good start."
The Gamecocks owned the top four places in the individual standings and didn't count a score higher than 77 in any round. Defending co-medalist Maya Parsons was second (223), while first-round leader Melania Bajo Geijo and freshman Anne Albrecht tied for third (226). Piedmont’s Erin Gunnels shot 77 in the final round and completed the Iron Five with a tie for 23rd.
Sisto’s individual win capped a long climb back to the top.
She hadn’t played much competitive golf since winning Argentina’s Under 18 girls title in 2008 and almost gave up the game altogether. In between that win and Tuesday, she spent two years back home getting her academics acceptable for a U.S. college, sat out an entire year after arriving at JSU to satisfy NCAA amateurism requirements and muddled through last season trying to regain her old form.
This week, she made 20 birdies and over the course of three days birdied 16 of the course’s 18 holes. The only ones she didn’t birdie were Heartbreaker 5 and 9 — and she had a putt for it on 9 in each of the last two rounds.
Hobbs called it a "monumental" step foward for a player who long professed to him being a good player, but had only one top 10 collegiate finished. Sisto shot 2-under 70 in the final round and became only the third JSU women to play a 54-hole tournament under par. She dedicated her play to her one-month-old nephew Ciro, born just two weeks before she returned to JSU.
"I've worked really hard during the summer so I was kind of expecting this," she said. "I was pretty confident I could play good in the tournament and then I went out there and played my best golf.
"It's a relief for me. The way things were going, I didn't like golf that much, then this summer I stated practicing every day with my dad — nine holes, 18 holes — and that made me love golf again. I think that was the main reason I played better today."
Belmont freshman Alexi Bevans, playing in her first collegiate tournament, scored her first hole-in-one when she aced the Mindbreaker No. 2 with a 6-iron. It helped her post her best round of the tournament, an 81, and finish 31st in the 38-player field.
“It was amazing,” she said. “It was a blind shot where the pin was so I had no idea it went in. I knew it was a good shot, but I didn’t see the ball past the hole, then I saw a ball with ‘Belmont’ on it in the cup.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.