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Monday December 5th

Women's golf overtakes N.C. State, finishes second at Bryan National Collegiate

Junior golfer Kelly Whaley (right) jokes with associate head coach Aimee Neff during the Briar's Creek Invitational in March. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Department.
Buy Photos Junior golfer Kelly Whaley (right) jokes with associate head coach Aimee Neff during the Briar's Creek Invitational in March. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Department.

The North Carolina women’s golf team started slowly but managed to battle back this weekend to finish second out of 17 teams at the Bryan National Collegiate. 

What happened?

The team made the drive to the Bryan Park Champions Course just north of Greensboro to compete in the tournament hosted by Wake Forest. 

Day One was a struggle for the Tar Heels, with junior Brynn Walker the only player to break par. The junior shot a one-over 37 on the front nine before a run of three straight birdies on holes 11-13 propelled her to a one-under round of 71 to start the weekend. First-years Jennifer Zhou and Nicole Lu came in close behind with opening rounds of 72 and 73, respectively. 

The scores left UNC in third place overall, 17 shots behind the hosts Wake Forest in first place and six back of N.C. State in second. 

The team got the bounce back they were looking for in the second round, with Walker, Zhou and senior Kelly Whaley all breaking par. Walker and Zhou led the way with a pair of two-under rounds, while Whaley came in with a 71 to help offset an opening round of 76. 

Zhou’s round started poorly with a double-bogey on the first hole, but she played nearly flawless golf the rest of the way, making four birdies and going bogey-free throughout the last 17 holes to move her into a tie for eighth in the individual standings. Walker ended the round one stroke ahead of Zhou in a tie for fourth as an individual. 

As a team, the Tar Heels remained in third place, three shots behind N.C. State in second but 19 shots back of dominant Wake Forest in first. 

The final day saw North Carolina overtake the Wolfpack in second thanks in large part to more solid performances from Zhou and Whaley. Zhou had a wild round that featured just six pars to go with seven birdies and five bogeys, but it was good enough for her second straight round of two-under. Whaley was a bit steadier, posting four birdies to go with three bogeys en route to a one-under 71. Sophomore Ava Bergner also came in with her best round of the week, an even-par 72.

The final team standings had the Tar Heels in second place with an overall score of two-under for the weekend, four shots ahead of N.C. State in third but a whopping 32 shots behind the victorious Demon Deacons, who put in a truly outstanding performance.

“I thought our team overall performed really well,” head coach Jan Mann said. “Everybody contributed and that was good to see, the seniors down to the freshmen all contributed.” 

Who stood out?

Zhou was the team’s best player on the weekend, finishing tied for fourth in the individual standings at four-under. It was the best result of the season for the Kunming, China, native who looks to be rounding into form at the right time heading into the final stretch of the schedule. 

Whaley was the team’s next highest finisher in a tie for 14th at two-over, while Walker ended up tying for 18th at three-over after a disappointing final round 78. 

“Brynn on the first two days played really well,” Mann said. “It was great to see her playing like she did, and Jennifer Zhou as a freshman definitely came through. I was also really pleased with Kelly Whaley, she didn’t have a good first day and wasn’t happy with herself but yesterday and today were much better.” 

When was it decided?

From a placing standpoint, the final day saw UNC leapfrog N.C. State into second place after trailing heading into the round, but the winner was never in doubt with Wake Forest absolutely dominating the field. The hosts entered the last round with a 16-shot lead and managed to stretch that margin to a remarkable 32 shots by the end of the day. 

To put the blowout in perspective, the gap between Wake Forest in first place and UNC in second place was four shots less than the difference between UNC and Virginia, who finished all the way back in ninth place. 

“Wake was just unbelievable,” Mann said. “But if we take them out of the equation I was very pleased.” 

Why does it matter?

The tournament this weekend was the second-to-last of the regular season for the Tar Heels, with only the Brickyard Collegiate in Georgia next week left before ACC Championships start on April 18th. This was one of the last chances to build momentum for the team, and a positive finish will give the players and coaches some confidence for the final stretch of the season. 

“I think we have to think less and trust more,” Mann said. “Just use our instincts and trust our preparation and then also focus more on our target and be less concerned about the outcome.” 

When do they play next?

The Brickyard Collegiate hosted by Mercer kicks off Monday, April 8th in Macon, Ga.

@sam_jarden

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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