Lexington High alum wins WSCGA’s 2022 Women’s State Amateur

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Coming from behind in the final round to triumph became the theme in a pair of recent women’s golf championships, and Karlee Vardas and Catherine Shealy played the leading roles.

Vardas, a former member of Lexington High’s prep powerhouse and now a rising sophomore at Georgia Southern, broke out of a jammed leaderboard to capture the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association’s Women’s State Amateur title at Fort Jackson Golf Club.

Shealy, one of the most decorated golfers in Winthrop history and now a mom with two teenagers, charged from five strokes back to win the Sonic Columbia City Women’s Championship at Forest Lake Club.

Vardas trailed defending champion Sophia Burnett (Bluffton/Furman) and Sydney Roberts (Chesnee/Clemson signee) by one shot headed into the final round over FJGC’s Old Hickory layout.

“No surprise. The South Carolina Women’s Am is always tight and competitive like that,” WSCGA executive director Clarissa Childs said in pointing out a playoff decided the 2020 title and Burnett won by one a year ago.

This time, Vardas moved in front early in the final round and owned a three-shot edge after Burnett bogeyed the par-4 16th. But the defending champion birdied the par-3 17th and put her approach on 18 into birdie range. Vardas, meanwhile, dumped her approach at the last hole into the front bunker for the second straight day.

Vardas left her third in the bunker for the second straight day, then blasted out to 25 feet and — again for the second straight day — made the long putt to salvage bogey. Burnett’s putt to tie lipped out.

“I played really well,” Vardas said in savoring the championship. “I had to; (Burnett and Roberts) played well, too.”

On her bunker struggles at the 18th, she said: “There was plenty of sand. It’s just different from Yeamans (her last tournament) and I didn’t adjust. But I did make the putt both times.”

Her best title? “Oh, yes,” Vardas said.

Vardas missed most of the college fall season with an illness and played only one tournament.

“But she’s been working so hard on her game since February, and it’s wonderful to see that work pay off,” said Kathy Vardas, Karlee’s mom.

Vardas finished a 1-under 215 for three rounds. Burnett posted even par 216, Roberts finished another shot back and Emma Schimpf (Daniel Island/College of Charleston) closed fast to finish fourth at 2-over 218.

Lea Anne Brown (Charleston) won the senior division and Louise Givens (Georgetown) captured the super-senior crown.

Shealy, a member of Winthrop’s athletic hall of fame, needed no heroics at the last to earn her first city title. With a two-stroke over Carla Rodriguez, she needed only to avoid the water on Forest Lake’s par-3 18th.

“The pin was on the front, too,” she said, “but I made sure (the tee ball) was long.”

Shealy, who plays at Cobblestone Park, is an annual fixture in the women’s city event, and she’s an annual contender with two seconds and two thirds in recent years.

“I’ve played (the tournament) over and over, and it’s great to finally win,” she said. “I don’t play all that often, but I do practice a lot on the driving range.”

Rodriguez took the first-round lead in the 36-hole event with a 4-over-par 76. Shealy shot an opening 81 and was unhappy with her ball striking.

“I went to the driving range (Monday) night and put a band-aid on my swing,” she said. “My ball-striking was so much better in the second round.”

She posted a 75 in the second round for a 156 total. Rodriguez finished at 158.

Diana Dorey won the City Division (played from shorter tees) and Nancy Dodge claimed the senior title for the eighth time. Mid-Carolina Club won the Leon Irons Team Scoring award.

Chip shots. The Midlands Chevy Dealers Columbia City Men’s Golf Championship will be played July 14-16 at The Spur at Northwoods, and entry information is available at www.columbiacitytournament.com. Sparked by an opening-round 62, Bronson Myers won the 2021 title. Other division winners included David Collins (seniors), Jimmy Martin (super seniors) and Burke Cromer (professional). ... USC freshman stars Hannah Darling and Louise Rydqvist earned Golfweek All-American honors, Darling making the first team and Rydqvist receiving honorable mention recognition. ... Jeff and Weston Bell (Piedmont) won the SCGA’s Father-Son tourney, edging Rob and Austin Reeves (Greenville) and Eric and Eric Nord (Blythewood) in a playoff at Greenville CC.

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