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SOUTH YARMOUTH, Massachusetts – Shannon Johnson (Thorny Lea GC) has called Massachusetts her home since 2012, and it has not taken her long to make Bay State history.
Under windy and warm conditions at Bass River Golf Course on Tuesday, Johnson posted a two-round score of 3-over par 147 to capture the 2018 Edith Noblit Baker Trophy. She finished four strokes ahead of first-round leader Hannah Ghelfi (Pocasset GC).
As a result of her victory, Johnson becomes only the second player in event history to win four straight titles. Only Joanne Goodwin, a member of the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, has captured more overall and consecutive titles since the event was introduced in 1950. Goodwin won the title each year from 1955 to 1959 and then again in 1971 and 1972.
“It is pretty crazy,” said Johnson, who has now won this title each year dating back to 2015. “I was coming into it, and I was seeing all of the past people who have won it four times total. To win it four times consecutively is awesome. I just try to bring my best stuff and see what happens.”
Johnson also becomes only the fifth player in event history and the first since 2008 to capture more than three Edith Noblit Baker Trophy titles. Only Gene McAuliffe (1954, 1960-61, 1968), Goodwin (1955-59, 1971-72), Nancy Black (1950-51, 1963, 1967) and Tara Joy Connelly (1997, 2006-08, 2010, 2013-14) have accomplished that feat.
“You are never going to hit every shot perfect, but for the last three or four years I have been just telling myself one shot at a time,” said Johnson. “Hit it and go hit the next shot and try to grind it out as best you can. That has really helped me to try to forget the past stuff, or maybe I am just maturing later in life.”
On this day, Johnson entered the day one stroke back of Ghelfi, who on Monday posted the only under-par score of the tournament – a 1-under par 71.
Despite making two bogies on the front nine, Johnson made the turn with a one-stroke lead over Ghelfi who made four bogies and just one birdie on a challenging front nine.
“I was just scrapping it along all day,” said Johnson, a resident of Norton who is a sales representative for PING golf. “I should have made birdie on 8. I should have made birdie on 9, and I had a good birdie putt on 10. It was three in a row and it was so frustrating. On 11, I was still one up and it was a hard hole into the wind. I overcooked it left and had to chip out. I made an awesome bogey which was great, but then I fell out of sync with my swing a little bit for the next few holes. Overall it was good. When you don’t bring your best stuff you have to grind it around.”
Despite her struggles with her swing, it had become a two-person race as the rest of the field fell back of Johnson and Ghelfi. The wind continued to gust and the competitors faced a back nine which presented many challenges.
Both competitors matched each other shot for shot through the first three holes on the back nine, but Johnson sent her tee shot on the 137-yard, par 3 14th hole into the left trees and well short of the green.
“The whole day the wind seemed like it kept switching directions,” said Johnson. “At first it should have been playing into the wind and then it felt like it was downwind so I took the downwind club and it was an awful swing. I hit it into the trees, and it came back and it was still like 40 yards from the pin.”
She went on to make double bogey after her second shot landed short of the green and her bogey attempt lipped out. In just one hole, the lead had flip flopped. In fact, it could have been a three-stroke swing had Ghelfi not rolled her birdie putt on that 14th hole just past the hole.
“On my walk back to the 15th tee I was trying to tell myself that I was still in this even though it had flipped and she was one up at the time,” said Johnson. “I knew that 16 was going to be downwind and if I hit it into the fairway I could get home in two. My mindset was to just get through 15 with par and go from there.”
While Johnson was able to execute her game plan on the next two holes, the same was not true for Ghelfi who found trouble on the 15th hole which changed the complexion of the event for good.
After a solid tee shot, Ghelfi’s approach from the fairway – which is a blind shot over a hill and onto an elevated green – went long and right. The ball was declared out of bounds as it had landed across High Bank Road, and Ghelfi would end up making triple bogey.
“I was in the fairway and when I hit it I thought that it was perfect,” said Ghelfi, who was accompanied all day long by her father Scott who served as her caddie. “I was thinking that it was right next to the hole, but my dad said that it was OB. You can’t see the flag, and I thought that it was farther right and that is where the OB is. I hit it really solid, but I should have walked up and looked. I guess it was a course-management issue for sure.”
With a two-stroke lead at the time, Johnson further secured her fourth title by finding the green on the 463-yard, par 5 16th hole for an eagle attempt. Ghelfi made bogey there, which gave Johnson more than enough buffer with just two holes to play.
“I had really good tempo on the drive,” said Johnson of her play on that 16th hole, which was her lone birdie of the day. “I had a 7 wood from 230 downwind. I didn’t hit it the best, but it still rolled up. I would totally take it any day.”
For Ghelfi, the finish was not what she had dreamed of but there was much to take away from what is the first major Mass Golf championship of the season. She claimed sole possession of second place, was the only player in the field to post a round under par through two days and she bettered her finish from 2017 by four places.
“I actually thought that I hit the ball equally well today, but I didn’t score as well,” said Ghelfi. “I made a lot of good shots, and I felt good over the ball.”
Making the future even brighter is the fact that next year’s Edith Noblit Baker Trophy will be held even closer to home – at her home course of Pocasset Golf Club.
“I am really excited for that,” said Ghelfi. “I love Pocasset, so that will be a lot of fun.”
Over the years, Meg Watson (Crumpin-Fox Club) has enjoyed many competitions but never before has she been able to call herself an individual champion when the final scorecards were signed.
That is until today.
Watson, a longtime competitor in what used to be called WGAM events and now Mass Golf Championships, delivered a come-from-behind victory on Tuesday at Bass River Golf Course to capture the Tournament Division title.
“It is just fantastic,” said Watson, who finished with a two-round score of 25-over par 169. “I have never won an individual tournament in WGAM and of course not Mass Golf events since it just started this year. My wife and I have won partner tournaments in WGAM, but I have never won an individual one so I am really excited.”
Entering the final round two strokes back of day-one leader Catherine Webster (Nashawtuc CC), Watson set the tone early and had climbed into a tie for the lead at the turn. She then made a critical birdie on the 294-yard, par 4 2nd hole.
“We were all trying really hard,” said Watson. “The conditions were really tough and the course was in excellent condition. The greens were super fast, and even the wind would affect your putt out there. Even when you thought that you had a straight putt, if the wind was moving across the green it could move your putt and that added to the difficulty. Everyone was just grinding it out, and we were having fun.”
Following 35 holes of regulation, the title came down to the final hole – the 141-yard, par 3 9th hole – and that is where Watson delivered her best shot of the day.
“We were all close to tied for the total, and I was lucky enough to hit a good tee shot on that par 3,” said Watson. “”I thought that it was really windy yesterday, and I thought that today would be less windy and I was so wrong, but I never let myself get too down. I played my usual game and lucked out.”
At the time of registration, all competitors were able to select their preferred division. The Tournament Division competitors competed from a different set of tees than that of the Championship Division field.
Prizes were also awarded to the net winners from both divisions. Those recognized during the trophy ceremony were Joanne Catlin (Oak Hill CC) and Pam Kuong (Charles River CC) from the Championship Division, and Catherine Webster (Nashawtuc CC) from the Tournament Division.