published Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Pancake putt wins NCAA title for Tide

  • photo
    Alabama's Brooke Pancake watches her birdie putt attempt roll toward the hole on the 18th green during the final round of the NCAA Division I women's golf championship, on Friday, May 25, 2012, in Franklin, Tenn. Pancake made par on the hole and Alabama beat Southern California by one stroke to win the team championship.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

FRANKLIN, Tenn. -- Brooke Pancake will be heading to Scotland to represent the United States in the Curtis Cup golf competition that begins June 8.

The Chattanooga resident sneaked in some pressure practice Friday in the final round of the NCAA women's championship tournament at the Vanderbilt Legends Club north course.

Pancake needed to two-putt from 60 feet for Alabama to win its first women's golf national title. The Crimson Tide senior couldn't be the medalist even with an eagle on the par-5 18th, but she could still win the tournament for the Tide.

The first putt reached the zenith of the 18th green and ducked left toward the hole. It rimmed out, leaving a little more than four feet for the win.

"I wanted that first putt to drop," Pancake said. "On that last putt, I was standing over it and thinking, 'This is my moment. I've put four years into it and I can't think of a better way to end my senior year.'"

The four-time state high school champion from Baylor rolled the putt into the center of the cup, prompting an eruption of emotion from Alabama fans and the Pancake contingent of at least 40 folks.

Alabama won at 19-over-par 1,171 and beat Southern Cal by one shot, LSU by two and Virginia by four.

"I'm tingling all over," said Bruce Etter, head professional at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, where Pancake grew up and still practices.

Pancake finished at 2-under 286, including a final-round 73 to finish as the individual runner-up, four shots behind Chirapat Jao-Javanil of Oklahoma.

"I would have loved to win individually," said Pancake, who has seen the 1951 NCAA championship medal won by Betty Probasco that is on display in the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame adjacent to the course. "I'm really competitive and would have loved to have won.

"But the team win means way more to me."

Pancake managed to keep dry eyes for a bit. Her mother, Debbie, couldn't. She joined the team for a group hug. Etter couldn't stop smiling, and neither could Pancake's swing coach, Todd McKittrick, the head professional at Black Creek Club.

They walked all 18 holes with Pancake, who as one of the best amateurs in the country will have a U.S. Open qualifier before heading overseas to play in the Curtis Cup -- the women's equivalent of the Walker Cup.

"Four years have gone by so fast," Pancake said. "People asked if I was going to leave early and I said, 'Nope.' This is amazing."

Her amateur career will get more memorable in Scotland before she turns professional this summer.

"Through relentless work she's become technically flawless," said McKittrick, who applauded Pancake's lone birdie at No. 12. "It never mattered to her if it was snowy or rainy, she worked. She didn't do it for anybody else."

Pancake concluded her college career on the same property where she fell in love with the game. Her grandfather, Jim Eakin, dropped her off one Sunday at the Tennessee PGA Junior Golf Academy at Golf House Tennessee.

"Maybe she was 8, and everybody was crying and I thought I'd have to come back and get her the next day," Eakin said. "But she didn't call me, and I knew she got the bug."

One pond away on Friday, as Pancake lined up the most important putt in Alabama women's golf history, an adult and child playing on the Little Course -- whispering distance from the 18th green -- stopped to watch.

They saw history and the conclusion of a career that began where they were playing.

"I'd be leaving work, then I'd look at the range and she'd be out there practicing," Etter said. "Then she'd go home and study for hours. Not only is she competitive on the course, but in the classroom, too.

"She started as a little beanpole, and she's grown into a beautiful young lady."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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