PHOENIX, Ariz. – It wasn’t a question of if, Gina Kowalchuk was going to win the Frontier Conference Tournament on Day 3, it was a question of by how much. The junior entered Round 3 with a 12 stroke lead and that gap grew to 18 by the tournament’s end. Her efforts helped the Lady Argo team to its best finish in program history in the postseason tournament, taking fourth out of six conference teams with a final score of +200 (1064).
Throughout the 2016-17 season, Kowalchuk was clearly the conference’s best female golfer, but her postseason performance was next level dominance. The junior won the regular season title by 7 strokes, compiled over three events and six total rounds. She more than doubled that margin in the three-round postseason tournament.
) wasn’t just impressive in comparison to the female field, it was outstanding for either gender. With the concession of her hitting from closer tees, Kowalchuk’s +5 would have placed her in 3rd on the men’s leaderboard.
“She was just fantastic from start to finish and only got better as the tournament progressed,” UGF Head Coach Nick Jankiewicz said. “I know how dominant she can be, but today she showed the conference just how good she is. I don’t know if this is the best tournament statistically, but mentally, this is the best she’s ever played.”
Despite having an essentially insurmountable lead before Round 3 started, Kowalchuk still followed her career pattern of saving her best work for the final round of a tournament. After two straight rounds of +2 (75), she became the only female, and the third player men’s or women’s, to shoot an under par round in the tournament.
She started on the back nine with 7 pars, 1 birdie, and 1 bogie for an E (37). She had another bogie at Hole 6 on the front nine, but bookended it with birdies on Holes 5 & 7 to get under par for a final round -1 (71). Over the course of the three rounds, Kowalchuk led all female golfers with 37 pars and 8 birdies and was the best golfer on Par 3s (+3) and Par 4s (-1).
The win fills a gap in the junior’s already impressive resume that includes two regular season conference titles an at-large bid to the NAIA Golf Championship in 2016. Winning the tournament was specific goal for her before the season started.
“It’s good to finally get past that wall and be able to say that I’ve finally gotten first,” Kowalchuk said. “I’ve been playing well all year and that just helped me be calm and confident in what I knew I can do and not have to focus on how anyone else was doing.”
Winning the conference tournament earns Kowalchuk an automatic bid to the 2017 NAIA Golf Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on May 23-26. Last year she had to wait two weeks before knowing if she would compete at the national tournament.
“I’m way more confident than last year. Having to wait for that at-large bid was really nerve-racking,” Kowalchuk said. “It’s nice to know right now and get it out of the way. I can start preparing now rather than waiting two weeks till everyone knows what’s going on.”
UGF’s fourth place team finish was a good start for a program that plans to return all its players for the 2017-18 season. Junior Katherine Buschhorn was the second best Lady Argo, taking 19th with a +60 (276). She started the tournament with an outstanding round of +17 (89), slipped a bit on Day 2 with a +24 (96), but recovered nicely on Day 3 with a +19 (91). Her final score was 25 strokes better than her score in the 2016 conference tournament, which was held on the same course.
“Katie played well, even though she was a little disappointed in her score,” Jankiewicz said. “Everyone expects a lot of themselves but that first round, in particular, was really good to see.”
Freshman Casey Babinecz finished just behind Buschhorn in 20th, and improved significantly throughout the tournament. She shot a +26 (98) in her first round, knocked 3 strokes off that on Day 2 with a +23 (95), and then saved another 9 strokes on Day 3, hitting the best round of any Lady Argo not named Gina with a +14 (86).
Her twin sister, Catrina Babinecz, took 22nd, also improving with each round by not by the same chunks as Casey. Catrina finished with a +72 (288) with rounds of 98, 97, and 96.
Sophomore Britan Dandrea rounded out the Lady Argo’s group of five, scoring a +101 (317) and taking 25th place.
Courtesy: UGF Sports Information