Ashley Sloup played her way into the final pairing in the final round of the Carolinas Women’s Amateur Championship last year. But she shot a 79 and tied for fifth at Treyburn Country Club.
Armed with that experience and a sophomore year of collegiate golf at Winthrop University in which she won twice, Sloup was more equipped to prevail in the final grouping Wednesday at The Reserve Club.
The 20-year-old Southport, N.C., resident improved upon the steady golf she had played in the opening two rounds with a 1-over 73 Wednesday to claim the Carolinas Women’s Am title by three shots at 6-over 222.
“Last year I was in the final group and it was a great experience, definitely a learning experience,” Sloup said. “… I was nervous last year in this position. But this year I feel I have a lot of experience under my belt, and I feel confident and I know I have the game and I’m equipped, and I just have to play my own game and not worry about anybody else.”
Bailey Cocca of Myrtle Beach, a New York native and recent Coastal Carolina graduate, closed with a 75 and finished second in the tournament for the second time in three years.
Two-time defending champion Katie Kirk of Greenville, N.C., an East Carolina graduate who is battling injuries, tied for 21st at 240.
The 90th playing of the longest running women's amateur tournament in the Carolinas featured 85 players, and the championship flight played between 6,000 and 6,200 yards.
“I think this is probably my biggest win, and it’s great to start the summer off with a win so I’ll have a lot of confidence going into the rest of the summer,” said Sloup, a product of The First Tee of Brunswick County.
Sloup birdied the 357-yard par-4 second hole with an approach to a foot, and bogeyed the par-4 sixth hole and par-4 16th hole with a three-putt. But she extended her lead to three shots on the 16th when Cocca made double bogey.
I can’t get out of my game because I’m getting out-driven. That’s not what matters. What matters is the score. … My strength is my irons and my putting. I let that do the talking.
Off the tee Wednesday, Sloup was consistently behind playing partners Carley Cox of James Madison University and China Grove, N.C., and Cocca, who generally hits her driver 250 to 270 yards.
“I’m not a long-baller by any means,” the 5-foot-4 and slender Sloup said. “I’m working on it, but obviously it’s hard when you’re hitting a few clubs more than them, but I just had to play my game. I can’t get out of my game because I’m getting out-driven. That’s not what matters. What matters is the score. … My strength is my irons and my putting. I let that do the talking. I just try to get in the fairway and do the best I can.”
Sloup’s steady game produced five birdies over three rounds and she had no worse than a bogey on all 54 holes.
“I tried to stay aggressive but conservative,” Sloup said. “With a one-shot lead it’s very close and anything can happen. I tried to hit it close but always have a birdie putt if nothing else. I feel I played pretty well.”
Sloup won UNC Greensboro’s Proehlific Fall Classic at Forest Oaks Country Club and the Lady EagleCat Invitational co-hosted by Bethune-Cookman at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., in the spring.
She tied for eighth in her final college event of 2015-16, the Big South Championship at DeBordieu Club in Georgetown. Winthrop, which won three events on the season, finished fourth.
Sloup has received instruction through her first two years of college from Alasdair Dyer of Barefoot Resort, and she regularly practices at St. James Plantation.
Sloup has upcoming qualifiers for the U.S. Women’s Amateur and U.S. Women’s Open, the North Carolina Women’s Am, and she has applied to play in the Women’s North & South Women Amateur.
Cocca held a one-stroke lead with a clean card and two birdies through 10 holes, but a three-putt bogey on the 11th hole, double bogey following a poor chip shot on the 12th and double bogey following a drive into trees on the 16th relegated her to second place.
“I hit a couple bad shots that put me in bad positions, but I can’t be mad about it,” Cocca said. “I am, but I can’t be.”
Cocca, who was a star as a young teenager – twice winning the New York State Junior Girls Championship by the age of 16 – scaled back her competition from age 16 to 18 before playing in college and is rededicating herself to golf to prepare for a pro career. She has been working with Alasdair Dyer in recent years, but has increased the regularity of lessons to two or three times a week in the past three months and is seeing the results in her game.
“My scores have gone down and they’ve been a lot better. I’ve had a few under-par rounds. But here I just struggled a little bit,” Cocca said. “… Overall it’s been better. It’s like one step at a time.
“I’ve been working on my game more myself because I’ve finally figured out what I want to do, and if that’s what I want to do I need to put the work in.”
Cocca played one semester at the State University of New York at Albany before transferring to CCU, and had a meniscus transplant in her knee in between to repair damage from a gymnastics injury in her youth.
While working in her family’s Coccadott’s Cake Shops this summer, Cocca will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, and plans to play in the North & South, Women’s Southern Am and at least one other significant amateur tournament.
She has about a month to decide whether or not to enter the LPGA Tour Qualifying Tournament that begins in the fall, or wait another year. “I don’t know if I’m ready for it yet,” Cocca said. “I still have my mess-ups where I can’t really save myself. So I have to make the best of my worst rounds instead of letting my head get to me.
“I’m going to see how the summer goes and then figure out what’s next after that.”
▪ 1, Ashley Sloup, Southport, NC, 75-74-73–222; 2, Bailey Cocca, Myrtle Beach, 76-74-75–225; 3, Reona Hirai, Summerville, 77-80-70–227; 4, Maddisen Cox, Easley, 75-78-77–230; T5, Annie Collom, Charlotte, NC, 81-76-74–231; T5, Mary-Katelyn Holanek, Cary, NC, 80-75-76–231; T5, Taylor Dodson, Aiken, 85-73-73–231; T8, Ashley Thompson, Clyde, NC, 84-78-70–232; T8, Tiffany Robbins, Fort Mill, 79-79-74–232; T10, Abbey Hartsell, Hickory, NC 79-78-76–233; T10, Rachel Jones, Asheboro, NC, 81-77-75–233.
▪ T16, Pendleton Bogache, Myrtle Beach, 84-76-77–237; T43, Kelli Smith, Murrells Inlet 87-83-89–259; 49, Anne Washington, Conway 91-87-92–270.
▪ 1, Sook Hee Yang, Jamestown, NC, 76-81-84–241; 4, Suzanne Moro, Myrtle Beach 84-82-80–246.
▪ 1, Kristen Rooke, Greenville 81-82-88–251; T6, Karen Zeip, Myrtle Beach 86-89-88–263; T11, Ellen Miller, Pawleys Island 96-85-91–272; T11, Marjorie Rogers, Surfside Beach 92-93-87–272.
▪ 1, Kathy Judge, Pawleys Island 88-89-90–267.