03 Dec 2021 | 07:02 | Golf
Montana’s Kylie Esh closed with a final-round 72 on Wednesday to finish in a tie for fifth at the 2021 Big Sky Conference Championship at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla, Ore.
Esh, who earned All-Big Sky Conference Tournament honors for her top-five finish, becomes the Grizzlies’ first top-10 performer since Baylee Barckley tied for fifth in 2016.
That Esh, who was one shot from tying for second, missed half a year of golf because of a cancer diagnosis and treatment only adds to the feel-good story.
“It’s such an amazing feeling, especially being out for so long because of my cancer,” she said. “I basically took six months off of golf, then started back up in January.
“I didn’t really have any expectations going into the season, so to finish in the top five gives me a lot of hope for a win next year. That would be really exciting.”
Esh finished where she did because of her work on the back nine of Arrowhead. Over three rounds, she played the final nine holes at 4-under, including a 3-under 34 on Wednesday.
“It was just getting used to the conditions and the speed of the greens as the day went on,” she said. “And the back nine has some par 5’s that are pretty good birdie opportunities.”
Esh opened with rounds of 76 on Monday and Tuesday. She entered Wednesday’s final round tied for 12th.
“She kept her composure so well throughout the entire tournament,” said coach Kris Nord. “She didn’t get ahead of herself. She has a huge upside. She can really hit the golf ball.”
Montana shot a 313 on Wednesday, its best round of the tournament after opening 320-325. The Grizzlies defeated both Montana State and Idaho State.
Sacramento State (298-304-299) won the tournament by eight strokes over Northern Arizona (296-309-304).
Portland State (302-307-309), Idaho (308-311-303) and Northern Colorado (310-307-313) rounded out the top five.
“It wasn’t what we were hoping for, but I’ve just been telling the girls to give themselves some grace because of how hard this course is and how high the numbers were for everybody,” Esh said.
“It’s a course where you can do well but also it has a lot of opportunity for mistakes and three-putts. We had some rough scores out there, but the last day was much better. I’m proud of how we came back.”
Freshman Meredith Boos broke 80 on Wednesday, shooting a 79 after playing the back nine at 2-over. Jessica Ponce shot an 80, Teigan Avery and Faith D’Ortenzio both carded an 82.
Avery (81-76-82) broke the top 30 for the second time in her career.
“We were a lot better today in terms of striking the ball,” said Nord. “We still didn’t get quite to where we wanted to go, but it’s a tough course and the kids competed all three days.
“Putting is what is separating us from the better teams. I think we strike the ball well enough to score well.”
Playing in her first Big Sky Championship, Ponce (81-86-80) tied for 42nd. Boos (82-88-79), a freshman, tied for 46th.
“Meredith getting this experience was huge, and Jessica is still essentially a freshman,” said Nord. “The nerves got to those guys for a day, a day and a half, and they bounced back.
“I like our crew going ahead. We’ll miss Faith and Teigan, but we can build around Kylie’s experience.”
Sacramento State’s Tess Blair shot rounds of 74, 69 and 72 to finish 1-under. Three players finished 7-over. Esh was one of three players at 8-over.
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