After six holes in the final round of the Georgia Women’s Open, UGA freshman golfer Harmie Constantino was struggling to match her torrid opening round of 66.
Constantino was one of three players to shoot 66 or better in the first round at Achasta GC, matching the score of recent Northwestern graduate Janet Mao, with both players trailing tour pro Emma Jandel, who opened with a sizzling 63.
Six holes into the second round, Constantino was 1-over on the day and trailed Jandel by four shots and was two behind Mao, who turned pro followed her senior season.
At that point, Constantino unleashed a torrent of birdies on her two playing partners, neither of who could approach their stellar level of play from the day before.
Constantino birdied eight of her last 12 holes to improve on her opening 66, firing a 65 to finish the tournament at 13-under 131, erasing the tournament record of 12-under 132 set in 2015 by Ashlan Ramsey at Brookfield CC.
From four shots behind after six holes, Constantino wound up with a 4-stroke margin of victory over fast finishing Jessica Welch of Thomasville,who birdied her last two holes to edge out Jandel and Mao for low pro honors.
Welch, playing in the group in front of the final threesome, shot her second straight 68 to take second overall at 136. Jandel also birdied the 18thhole, but it was not quite enough to overtake Welch, as the opening round leader settled for a 74 and a 137 total, tying Jenny Bae, Constantino’s UGA teammate, for third overall. Mao bogeyed the 18thfor an even par 72 and placed fifth overall at 138.
After three scores of 66 or better the first day, the final round belonged to Constantino, whose 65 was three shots lower than the 68s by Welch and Bae.
“Putting is usually the strength of my game,” Constantino said after her victory Tuesday afternoon, but she was a little surprised with how many putts kept going in the hole that day.
Constantino suffered her only bogey of the tournament on the par-5 fourth hole when her second shot from long range failed to carry the hazard short of the green. She could have been even farther behind after six holes, but both Jandel and Mao missed relatively short birdie putts on the par-5 sixth.
Things began to change for Constantino beginning at the par-4 seventh. She carded her first birdie of the day after a superb approach shot, and closed to within one shot of the lead after an errant drive by Jandel led to a double bogey.
Constantino pulled even with Jandel and went one ahead of Mao when she rolled in a birdie putt at the par-4 ninth, one of the most difficult holes on the course.
“I didn’t think I could hit the green,” she said. “Then I made a 20-footer for birdie and that was the putt that got me going.”
Constantino holed a slightly shorter birdie putt at the 10th, with Mao moving past Jandel with a birdie from close range while Jandel missed the green long and made bogey. Constantino then turned to her ball striking for birdies at 12 and 13 to increase her lead to four when Mao hit her second shot from the large fairway bunker on the short par-4 13thwell over the green and made bogey.
“My irons were really good today,” Constantino observed, “They were going where I wanted them to go.”
A deft pitch and run at the par-5 14thproduced another birdie for Constantino, who made it four in a row when she nailed another birdie putt of length at the perilous par-5 15th. Constantino thought she hit the putt too hard, and was visibly surprised when it broke toward the hole and into the cup.
She continued her string of one putts when she made a nice par save at the 16th, and closed out her day to remember when she struck another beautiful approach to the par-4 18thfor her sixth birdie of the back nine.
Constantino’s back nine 30 enabled her to race past Jandel and Mao, both of whom played their final nine holes in even par. Constantino said she has shot 63 in tournament play previously, but the low score of her freshman season in Athens was a 68.
She beat that score by two shots in the first round, and was quite pleased with her score until she found out she was not in the lead.
“I played really well and shot 66, then I was surprised to find out that I was three behind. I thought ‘Oh my God’, somebody shot 63. Today I was just trying to go as low as I could.”
The diminutive Constantino (she is several inches shy of five feet tall) traveled a long way to get to Athens from her home in the Philippines. She was a highly recruited golfer with a strong amateur resume, and will be one of the key players on what will be a young UGA squad in 2019-20 that looks to return the Bulldogs’ women’s golf program to national prominence.
Constantino had the low scoring average on the Georgia women’s team as a freshman, collecting four top-10 finishes in her first five starts before a slower finish in the spring. Her victory came in her first tournament appearance since Georgia played in the NCAA Regionals in May.
Jandel threatened to run away from the field after her sensational opening round, but was not nearly as sharp the next day. Her 63 included three birdies and an eagle (No. 6) on the par 5s and four more birdies, including back-to-back birdies at 17 and 18 for a back nine of 31.
Her first two birdies Tuesday also came on par 5s, the highlight occurring on the 15th, where she had to pitch out to the fairway after driving in close proximity to a tree. She then unloaded a fairway metal over the Chestatee River and onto the distant green before holing her birdie putt. Jandel, who plays out of the Golf Club of Georgia, has competed on both the LPGA and Symetra Tours, playing on the Symetra Tour since 2010.
Bae, who joined the UGA women’s team midway through the 2018-19 season after graduating early from Collins Hill in Gwinnett County, shot 69-68, doing most of her damage in two bursts of birdies, one in each round. She had four straight birdies from holes 4 through 7 the first day, and closed out her second round 68 with birdies on three of the last four holes, going bogey free on the day.
Birdies at 10 and 14 the final day got Mao to 7-under and she came to the 18thneeding birdie to tie Welch for low pro honors. But her second shot ended up in the hazard just off the right side of the green and she made bogey to finish behind both Welch and Jandel, who needed only a tap-in for birdie at the 18th.
Welch took home $1,500 for finishing as low pro, and was one of the few players in the field with any previous record of success in the Georgia Women’s Open. She tied for second behind Ramsey in 2015 and also finished in the top 10 the next year.
Jandel earned $1,000 for taking second among the pros, while Mao, who played in high school at Johns Creek before attending Northwestern, collected $800. Milton’s Kayla Jones, who played in college at Florida State and is now a pro, was sixth at 141 and former Georgia State golfer Melissa Siviter, also a pro, was seventh at 142, her third top 10 in the tournament since 2015.
Three-time Georgia Women’s Open champion Margaret Shirley Starosto was a late withdrawal prior to the tournament, leaving the event, which was first played in 1995, without a former champion in the field for its 25thanniversary.
Many of the state’s most prominent female players – both pro and amateur – were playing elsewhere this week, but they would have been hard pressed to match the exceptional performance put on by Constantino.
With her win, Constantino is the fourth UGA golfer to win the Georgia Women’s Open, joining Summer Sirmons (1998), Emilie Burger (2010) and Kendall Wright (2012), the only one of the four to win as a pro.