ABERDEEN — For the past year Payson Birkeland felt the need to seek validation for a 2018 Class A girls' state golf title that came with an asterisk of sorts as she was awarded the medalist trophy after Kate Winja, the tournament low scorer, was disqualified for turning in an incorrect scorecard.
On Tuesday, the Belle Fourche senior attained that goal while putting the doubt of others, and herself, to rest, earning her second state title with a 76 Tuesday and a two-day total of 153 to post a three-shot win over Lauren Tims of Sioux Falls Christian (79-77, 156) at Lee Park Golf Course.
“I get chills thinking about it since it’s such a validation thing for me to win this year,” Birkeland said moments after walking off the 18th green. “I worked and worked all last summer since I knew I had to prove myself. All winter I was hitting into a net and in the barn, anywhere I could. The past couple weeks I’ve been hitting balls at six in the morning before work since I so much wanted that validation, and my name on the title again. And here it was 365 days later and I was back in the same position and was able to come through. That is a special feeling.”
Kelsey Heath (77-80, 157) of Sisseton and Mya Maxwell of Madison, (81-76, 157) shared third followed by Alex Carr (Vermillion, 85-73, 158), Lauren Driscoll (West Central, 78-84, 162), Jayme Carlson (West Central, 87-76, 163) and Hot Springs' Aryanna Watts (82-83, 186).
West Central (351-352, 703) won the school’s first ever girls' title followed by Sisseton (366-351, 717), Hot Springs (374-356, 730), Madison (373-370, 743) and Parkston (371-373, 744). Belle Fourche finished ninth (389-392, 781) and St. Thomas More, led by Katie Conzet’s 93-90, 183, finished 15th (427-425, 852).
Birkeland’s march to fulfillment didn’t come without a tense moment or two, though a 25-foot par saving putt on the opening hole helped to settle some early jitters.
“That was a huge putt for me,” Birkeland said. “Yesterday I struggled with my putter and never got in the flow, and then on number one having to punch out from under the trees and get on the green in three and make that putt to save par, was a great way to start off my round.”
Nip-and-tuck with Tims and Sisseton’s Heath through the first six holes, Birkeland responded with a 54-degree wedge to three feet on the 102 yard 7th hole, which was all the more impressive in that the shot was in response to a Tims’ tee-shot to within five feet.
“I saw Lauren and I were really close in score, so I knew I had to do something to answer and stuff one closer,” Birkeland remarked. “I knew there was a touch of wind behind me, so I clubbed down and threw it up in the air and let the wind do the rest.”
The birdie putt expanded the lead to three shots as Birkeland appeared on the way to separating from the field maintaining a three-shot advantage with nine holes to play
The opening holes of the back nine proved otherwise.
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“It felt like the wheels were coming off. On number 10, I tried to play it safe and ended up in the trees, and ended up with a double bogey after missing a short putt,” Birkeland said. “And then I snap-hooked a drive on the next hole and threw a wedge from the rough over the green and ended up bogeying that hole. At that point, I was kind of in panic mode. I wasn’t telling myself any longer that I could do this, but rather that I have to do this.”
With the lead dwindled to a single shot from the long-hitting Tims, Birkeland amped up her game, playing even par golf through the remaining seven holes, including a very nervous tee-shot on the par-five 17th hole.
“I knew it was down to Lauren and me, and she was throwing darts at greens and I had to keep up,” Birkeland said. “On 17 I was so nervous I could barely hold the club. So I grabbed my favorite hybrid and just pured it and hit it a mile. And on 18, I used the same club, the one I’m most comfortable with, and did it again.”
With a relatively comfortable two-shot lead on the final tee, Birkeland followed the big drive with her favorite hybrid, knocking a pitching wedge on the green to within 30 feet.
“Honestly, I wanted to tell myself that I could win this, but I knew I could run the putt long since it was like I couldn’t feel my fingertips,” Birkeland said of an initial putt that came up a couple of feet short. “I just wanted to get it close, and I when I made the par putt at the end, it felt awesome.”
This time, one-year later, a second state championship. And validation outright with no strings attached.
Hot Springs coach Dave Merrill was pleased as well as his Lady Bison, fifth in the team title hunt coming into final round play, improved by 18 shots on Tuesday to vault into third spot overall behind West Central and Sisseton.
“The girls played really well today. It was pretty hot here today and we aren’t really used to that, but they played well and better than they did yesterday. They pulled it together and I’m proud of their effort,” Merrill said.
Watts (eighth, 82-82, 186), Malory Olstad (T12, 87-89, 176), Madilyn Palo (29th, 96-93, 189) and Sydney Olstad (T49, 109-91, 200) contributed to the Lady Bison total.
“I just told them it’s the last chance for this year and just go out and have some fun and act like they are playing in Hot Springs just for fun, and they kind of did that.” Merrill added.