Billings native Leslie Spalding has another Mountain West Conference championship for San Diego State after her golf women won in dramatic fashion on Wednesday.
Spalding, now in her eighth season at SDSU, explained to MTN Sports how an exciting finish went down on the final hole at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“I’m on the 18th hole. I haven’t looked at Golf Stat at all and my player (Fernanda Escauriza) hits her driver 300 yards,” Spalding recounted. “I mean, she hits it so far, and she could go for it in two if we needed to. She said, ‘How do we stand?’ I said, ‘Let me look … we’re tied.’
“The other player, for Nevada, ended up hitting her second shot into the fairway bunker, which makes it a difficult third shot over water. She (Escauriza) said, ‘I’m laying up,’ and I said that was the right thing to do. She laid up and put her chip shot to about 12 feet. The other girl got over the water, barely, and had a chip shot.
“My player missed for birdie and, at that time, my assistant came up to me and said, ‘Hey, they have Sara’s (SDSU’s Kjellker) score wrong. She’s shot one better than it says,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ She (Spalding’s assistant) is, in the meantime, looking at her phone again and said, ‘Yes, we have a one-shot lead.’ Our player Fernanda had to make a two-footer to win. So, that was it and it was amazing.”
The final was a one stroke win over Nevada on the par-72, 6,240-yard Dinah Shore Tournament Course. It locked up SDSU’s second conference tourney title under Spalding, followed by a soaked celebration.
“Yeah, it was good,” Spalding said with a chuckle. “I forced my boss to jump in (to the pond) with us.
“That’s just the best part about it, getting to have our championship where they play our biggest major for the LPGA Tour. And the history of women’s golf being there, and we get to jump in the same pond that the winner of the ANA Inspiration gets to jump in every year.
“It’s called Poppy’s Pond and Amy Alcott jumped in it the first time in 1988 and it was just a nasty lake. Now they’ve made part of it so that it’s safe, because I think Morgan Pressel broke her leg, or her mom broke her leg. Or, maybe Paula Creamer’s mom broke her leg jumping into it. So, they’ve made it a safe place to jump into with, kind of, pool water.”
It was a sweet championship for the Aztecs after three consecutive runner-up finishes.
SDSU, which opened the day with a nine-shot advantage over San José State and a 10-stroke margin over Nevada, shot a collective 18-over-par 306 during the final round for a 54-hole total of 40-over 904. The Spartans (+48) slipped into fourth behind UNLV (+47), but the Wolf Pack (+41) gave the Aztecs all they could handle, posting a 9-over 297 over the final 18 holes to fall one shot short.
Leading by one stroke heading into the 18th green, SDSU counted three pars and one bogey on its team score, matching that of Nevada to secure its first league crown since 2015 and second overall. With its MW title, San Diego State also clinched the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Regionals, scheduled for May 6-8 at four different venues.
“Today’s win was a tough victory against some great competition,” Spalding said in SDSU’s sports information release. “We’ve fought hard in every tournament this season and it’s so thrilling to finish as champions and make SDSU proud. Hopefully, this gives us some momentum when we prepare for regionals.”
Individually, the Aztecs were paced by Kjellker (Hollviken, Sweden), who tied for second in the field with a 3-over 219 after shooting a 72. The SDSU sophomore offset two bogeys and one double bogey with four clutch birdies, including a critical make on the par-4, 370-yard No. 13, which gave the Scarlet and Black a huge boost after the Wolf Pack narrowed the gap. After a bogey at the par-4 15th, she rose to the occasion once again, closing with three consecutive pars.
With her score, Kjellker climbed two places on the leaderboard, finishing two shots behind Fresno State medalist Brigitte Thibault (+1), along with San José State’s Natasha Andrea Oon.
In addition, Escauriza (Asunción, Paraguay) landed in the fourth spot at 5-over 221 after logging a final-round 76. The SDSU junior drained the team’s two other birdies of the day at the par-5 11th and at No. 13 to offset four bogeys and a double bogey. Despite slipping two positions from the previous round, the 2017 MW medalist helped the Aztecs down the stretch with pars on her final two holes, including the 18th, where she stuck her approach safely on the green before putting out for an even-5.
Kitty Tam (Hong Kong, China), who experienced a dearth of birdies on Wednesday, was also a model of consistency in crunch time, closing with five consecutive pars after making a double bogey and bogey on the 12th and 13th greens, respectively. Earlier, the SDSU senior weathered three additional bogeys on front nine before completing a card of 78 to finish the championship in a tie for 22nd at 19-over 235.
Elsewhere, fellow classmate Daniela Anastasi (La Jolla, Calif.) figured in the Aztecs’ winning total after logging an 80 over the final 18 holes. The La Jolla High alumna was just 2-over for the day at the turn, but stumbled on the back nine with four bogeys and a double bogey to complete the tournament in a tie for 34th at 26-over 242.
The SDSU contingent also featured Gioia Carpinelli (Boppelsen, Switzerland), who slipped nine places into a tie for 15th at 16-over 232 on the heels of an uncharacteristic 82. The Aztec sophomore was unable to regroup from a trio of bogeys before the turn, suffering six more blemishes on the back nine, including a double bogey at No. 13.
San Diego State learns its regional desitnation on Wednesday, April 24, when NCAA regional bids are announced live on the Golf Channel, starting at 3:30 p.m. MDT. This year’s regional sites and host schools include Cle Elum, Wash. (Washington), Norman, Okla. (Oklahoma), East Lansing, Mich. (Michigan State) and Opelika, Ala. (Auburn).
2019 MW Championship
Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Mission Hills C.C.
Dinah Shore Tournament Course
Par 72, 6,270 yards
Team Standings (9 schools)
1. San Diego State…303-295-306—904 (+40)
2. Nevada…305-303-297—905 (+41)
3. UNLV…310-299-302—911 (+47)
4. San José State…299-308-305—912 (+48)
5. Fresno State…313-300-308—921 (+57)
6. Boise State…313-310-308—931 (+67)
7. New Mexico…318-317-310—945 (+81)
8. Colorado State…321-319-309—949 (+85)
9. Wyoming…313-319-326—958 (+94)
Individual Leaders (Top 5 of 45 players + SDSU)
1. Brigitte Thibault, Fresno State…71-70-76—217 (+1)
T2. Sara Kjellker, SDSU…78-69-72—219 (+3)
T2. Natasha Andrea Oon, San José State…72-74-73—219 (+3)
4. Fernanda Escauriza, SDSU…73-72-76—221 (+5)
5. Victoria Gailey, Nevada…75-76-73—224 (+8)
T15. Gioia Carpinelli, SDSU…76-74-82—232 (+16)
T22. Kitty Tam, SDSU…76-81-78—235 (+19)
T34. Daniela Anastasi, SDSU…82-80-80—242 (+26)
(Editor’s note: Information from SDSU Athletics was used in this story.)