When the 132-player field arrived for the 5th Garden City Charity Classic Symetra Tour event this past week, there had been 16 weeks of tournaments.
There also had been 16 different players to reach the winner’s circle.
Now make it 17.
Allyssa Ferrell is the latest addition to that one-time winner’s list, and in her case, it also marks her first professional tour victory.
She did it by blistering the mild-mannered Buffalo Dunes Golf Course with a final-round, 7-under-par 65 Sunday to provide her with a two-shot victory over three players. Her 54-hole total of 200 (66-69-65) was just ahead of Madison Pressel, Dana Finkelstein and Pavarisa Yoktuan, whose final rounds were 68, 70 and 67.
Ferrell, who played her collegiate golf at Michigan State University and hails from Edgerton, Wis., said the putter was the key to her victory, while also crediting her sister, Brooke, who caddied for her during the Classic as a late-addition on the bag.
“I just went into today trying to play the best I could, thinking that I might be able to go 3- or 4-under and finish in the top 5,” Ferrell said. “But the putter got hot, and things just started clicking.”
While the other 36-hole leaders (Finkelstein led by 1 at 132, 12-under) were still moving the scores lower on the front nine, Ferrell kept pace with a 3-under 33. But it was a stretch of three holes on the incoming nine where she birdied 11, 12 and 13 (a par-4, par-3 and par-5) to crash the top of the leaderboard.
“I really didn’t become aware of the leaderboard until the last few holes because I would rather know what I needed to do than not at all,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said that being in contention the week before in Sioux Falls, S.D., but only finishing with a 1-over final round, had taught her a good lesson that helped this week.
“The biggest lesson was to tell myself don’t be afraid of winning,” Ferrell said.
She credited her sister for keeping her relaxed over the final nine holes.
“She hadn’t caddied for me in a long time, and she decided last minute to come down and do this for me,” Ferrell said of her sibling, who had also played competitive golf but had to give up the game due to a series of surgeries to repair a badly damaged right wrist. “She’s a trooper, and she’s one of the best in knowing my game, and I think we just make a good team.”
While just minutes removed from the victory, Ferrell was still trying to bask in the limelight of the win, which provided her with a $22,500 payday, nearly twice the amount that she had earned all season ($11,396).
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,”she said of her first triumph. “Every week, 144 girls tee it up, and you tell yourself you hope you can do it. I guess this week it was just my week.”
She played steadily down the back 9, finishing off her impeccable no-bogey round with a birdie on the par-5 16th. She had solid pars on the closing two holes.
Pressel was the player who had the final chance at sending the tournament into sudden death when she came to the 18th hole down by a shot. But her tee shot found the right rough, her second shot was pulled left of the green, and then from about 30 feet she pitched it by 15 feet and proceeded to miss the par putt, dropping her into a tie with Finkelstein and Yoktuan.
Despite the close call, Pressel was pleased with her tie for second finish.
“By far my best tournament of the year,” Pressel said. “It’s just the second top 10 and my first top 5, so I’m leaving with a lot more confidence in my game. I’ve been hitting the ball well, but this week I made the most birdies I can remember in a tournament.”
Pressel had put herself in position with three birdies and a bogey on the front nine, and then made her charge with birdies at the 11th and 12th, and then a stiffed 9-iron from 152 yards to within 18 inches for a birdie, which put her temporarily in a tie with Ferrell. Pressel missed a golden birdie opportunity when a 10-footer slid by the hole on the 16th, and then her 20-footer for birdie on 17 went just past the high side of the ball.
“You’re gonna make some, you’re gonna miss some,” Pressel said. “The next four weeks will be pivotal, but this gives me a boost.”
Perhaps the biggest heartbreak of the day came for Finkelstein, who had been at or near the top of the leaderboard after opening with back-to-back 66s, leaving her at 12-under. The 2016 Charity Classic champ had won that event with a four-round total of 11-under, and had played six total rounds in 23-under par heading into Sunday’s finale.
She seemed to be right on track, and perhaps in the driver’s seat early, by making birdies at the first, fifth and sixth holes to reach 15-under sooner than anybody, once owning a 3-shot edge. But suddenly, her radar-like iron shots and blazing putter cooled.
She bogeyed the 11th when she missed a 1-footer, saying “That was the one that changed the momentum for me.”
She birdied the par-5, 13th to get back to -15, only to give them back with consecutive bogeys at the 15th and 16th holes.
“I had mud on my ball on 15 (fairway shot), and it just kind of shot off the clubface,” she said.
The ball landed on the green and instead of stopping, it skipped over the green where she chunked a pitch shot and then missed the par putt. On the 16th, her third shot went long and left, leaving her a difficult short pitch that went 10 feet by the hole, and she missed the par-saving putt there to drop back to -13.
She made a side-winding, 20-foot downhill putt on the par-3 17th, but it was too little, too late.
“I don’t know, maybe I got a little nervous on the back nine, but I quit hitting it as close as I had and it just wasn’t my day,” said the diminutive Arizona native, who was trying to become the first repeat winner at the Classic. The only other past champion in the field, Vicky Hurst, started the day at -9, three shots back of Finkelstein, but could only muster a 71 in her final round.
“Overall, I can’t be disappointed in my game,” Finkelstein said. “I played well, and my game’s in a good place with four events left.”