After finishing in the top five each of the last five years in the Georgia Women’s Open, including three straight runner-up finishes, Roswell’s Jessica Haigwood figured it was finally her time take home the winner’s trophy.
Haigwood shot a final round 69 at Pinetree CC earlier this week to score a two-stroke victory over Lacey Fears of Bonaire, who either led or was tied for the lead until the last five holes of the final round Tuesday.
“This is definitely a big deal for me,” Haigwood said of her victory. “I’ve come up short so many years. I hoped for that win.”
Haigwood’s first strong showing in the Georgia Women’s Open came in 2012 at Callaway Gardens, when she finished fourth shortly after completing her junior year at Roswell High School. She tied for second at Brookfield CC, where she played her high school golf, the next year, and followed with two more runner-up showings the next two years at Brookfield after her freshman and sophomore seasons on the golf team at Augusta State.
Last year, Haigwood was fifth at Brookfield, but ended up only three shots behind the winner, and came into this week’s tournament as one of the favorites after a strong senior season for the Lady Jaguars. Prior to winning the Georgia Women’s Open, Haigwood earned co-medalist honors in a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier at Ansley Golf Club’s Settindown Creek, her home course.
The Women’s Amateur will be the final event for Haigwood before she turns pro and attempts qualifying for the 2018 LPGA Tour.
“I’m very excited,” she said of her soon-to-be professional career. “I know it’s possible and I know I can do it.”
Until she turns pro, Haigwood will continue her work in the pro shop at Forest Hills, the home course for Augusta State, and will graduate later this year,
Haigwood will be doing some traveling in August, with the Women’s Amateur being played in San Diego and the first stage of LPGA qualifying at Mission Hills in the southern California desert. She earned her spot in the Women’s Amateur with a 3-under 69 at Settindown Creek, one of the state’s most demanding courses but one in which she had an abundance of local knowledge.
“Playing on my home course, I felt comfortable,” Haigwood said, and her score reflected that comfort.
Haigwood was not as familiar with the layout at Pinetree, but matched that 69 in the second round of the Georgia Open to move past the three first round co-leaders. She finished second at Pinetree in a college tournament her senior season.
An opening 72 left Haigwood one shot behind the trio of Fears, 2015 Georgia Women’s Open champion Ashlan Ramsey of Milledgeville and Woodstock’s Melanie Talbott. Roswell’s Rinko Mitsunaga, who shared medalist honors in the U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier at Settindown Creek, and Payton Schanen of Johns Creek were tied for second at 72 with Haigwood.
Both Fears and Haigwood got off to strong starts in the second round, and battled for the lead for most of the round. The two were tied for seven straight holes beginning at the seventh, where Fears took a bogey on the par 4 to lose the outright lead.
Ramsey, who struggled as an LPGA Tour rookie last year and is having another difficult season this year on the Symetra Tour, was only one off the lead after a birdie at the par-4 sixth, but fell out of contention with a double at the seventh. She did not make another birdie until the difficult finishing hole at Pinetree and tied Mitsunaga, one of the top players on the Georgia golf team, for fourth at 144.
Fears, who played her college golf at Mercer and works as an instructor at Idle Hour in Macon, was a serious contender in the tournament for the first time since 2011, when she finished three shots back in fourth place while still in college. She shot 72 for a 143 total at Pinetree to earn low pro honors and a check for $1600. Ramsey took home $1100 for placing second among the pros.
Birdies at the first two holes gave Fears the early lead, but Haigwood pulled even with birdies at 2, 3 and 5. A bogey at the long par-4 sixth cost Haigwood a share of the lead, but Fears bogeyed the seventh to drop back into a tie, which held for the next seven holes.
Both players birdied the par-5 11th, with Haigwood reaching the elevated green in two with a 5-wood to the back fringe. Haigwood took her first outright lead she hit her wedge approach to the short par-4 14th close, and moved ahead by two when Fears bogeyed the long par-4 15th.
Haigwood gave one shot back when she bogeyed the vulnerable par-5 16th after an errant drive, but Fears fell two behind when she bogeyed the par-3 17th. Mitsunaga also bogeyed the 17th after carding nine straight pars, and shot a second straight 72 to finish second among the amateurs and tied for fourth overall.
Schanen, a member of the golf team at Mercer, closed with a 73 to take fifth at 145.
Talbott, who plays on the golf team at Auburn, had four birdies in an opening 71 to share the lead with Fears and Ramsey, but did not make a birdie in the final round. She played her last 13 holes in 10-over for an 81 to a tie for 18th behind Auburn teammates Michaela Owen of Brookhaven and Kayley Marschke of Suwanee.
Haigwood spent the final round not knowing where she stood except in relation to playing partner Mitsunaga.
“I had no clue what was going on behind me,” she said. “I didn’t worry about it. I focused on making birdies.”
Haigwood had a total of five birdies in the final two rounds, two on par 5s she bogeyed the day before (2 and 11), two on a pair of the shorter par 4s at Pinetree (5 and 14) and the other on one of Pinetree’s toughest two-shotters (3).
“I tried to win this every year but came up short,” Haigwood said. “But this was my year.”