TRINITY, Texas—The U.S. Men saved their best for last.
After a slow start, reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Scottie Scheffler punctuated the final round at the Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship with six birdies on the back nine to bring home gold for the U.S. Team. Scheffler and teammate Jordan Niebrugge combined to shoot 7-under-par 29 on the final nine holes to hold off France in the International Team division of the unique biennial tournament that features five separate competitions at once.
The U.S. Team finished the weather-shortened event at 33-under 399 for 54 holes. It’s the third consecutive gold medal for the U.S. in the overall team division and the fourth since The Spirit’s inception in 2001.
France closed fast Saturday to win the silver medal at 27-under 405. Malaysia took the bronze with a score of 25-under 407. Heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday washed out one round and scaled back to championship to 54 holes.
"It feels great,” said Scheffler. "We were really struggling in the morning, but some putts started dropping. That really freed up the rest of our games and allowed us to play aggressively. To win gold here means a lot. It’s what we set out to do.”
The U.S. also won gold in the Men’s Team division; Scheffler and Niebrugge finished 22-under par for the championship. Finland and Sweden tied for the silver at 16-under.
A pair of 15-year-olds won the Women’s Team gold medal for France, upsetting the highly decorated U.S. duo of Mississippi State junior Ally McDonald and Clemson freshman Ashlan Ramsey. Behind their braces and hair bows, Mathilda Cappeliez and Eva Gilley proved to be worthy champions by combining to shoot 12-under par for the 54 holes. Ramsey, the 2013 Women’s Western Amateur champion, and McDonald, the 2013 North/South Amateur champion, made a double bogey on the final hole to post 11-under. Malaysia and South Africa shared the bronze medal at 10-under.
"We are so excited,” Cappeliez said. "We’re only 15 years old, so we don’t have much experience. We just wanted to come here, have fun and enjoy the experience. Winning the gold is beyond our expectations.”
Their teammate Julien Brun had a lofty goal and reached it. For the first time at The Spirit, the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial awarded a sponsor’s exemption to the Men’s Individual champion. Brun, who plays college golf at TCU in Fort Worth where the Colonial is played, made no secret about his aspirations for the week at Whispering Pines.
"I was thinking about the Colonial exemption on the first hole of the first day,” he said. "It was hard not to think about it.”
Brun won a five-man playoff with a two-putt par on the third extra hole to win the spot in next year’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Finland’s Tony Hakula, who won a 2012 NCAA national championship with Texas, Sweden’s Daniel Jennevret and both U.S. players totaled 14 strokes under par for the week to qualify for the playoff.
"The Colonial is right in our backyard,” Brun said. "They use our parking lot during the tournament. I get to play there once a week, and this sponsor’s exemption is something I’ve been talking about since they told us about it. I’m really excited about it.”
Canada’s Brooke Henderson, a 2011 Spirit alumna, won Women’s Individual gold medal. The 16 year old from Ontario totaled 13 strokes under par for the week. Henderson held off Cappeliez, who won silver with 12 strokes under par, as well as South Africa’s Kim Williams and Japan’s Yumi Matsubara, who tied for bronze with 11 shots under par.
"I was definitely aiming for the gold, but I really was trying to help my team the most,” said Henderson, who this year won the Canadian Women’s Amateur and Canadian Women’s Open professional event. "This is one of my absolute favorite tournaments. I’ve wanted to come back ever since I was here two years ago.”
The U.S. Team stormed out to a six-shot lead after the first round in the International Team division. Before the Americans could run away and hide in the second round, however, teams such as Malaysia, France and South Africa turned in strong performances to keep the U.S. Team within reach. Headed into the final round, the U.S. Team held a two-shot lead over Malaysia. France was four shots back.
McDonald on Saturday made three birdies on the opening nine to pace the U.S., but Scheffler and Niebrugge only managed one stroke under par before the turn. Scheffler, in particular, was laboring. Before reaching the 10th hole, he had made only four birdies in the previous 36 holes.
Then Scheffler dropped a birdie on the 10th hole. Then he birdied the 11th. Both Scheffler and Niebrugge made birdies on the par-5 12th and par-4 14th. Niebrugge dropped a 15-foot birdie on the short par-3 15th, then Scheffler added another birdie when he cozied in a 10-foot putt on the par-3 16th.
Both U.S. Men got up and down from awkward lies to add another birdie on the par-5 17th.
"We knew the boys had that kind of run in them,” Ramsey said of her teammates. "They’re both great player and even better people. Ally and I wish he had played better, but this is a team event and that’s what teammates are for. We’re thrilled to win the gold. Scottie and Jordan got it done for us.”
For U.S. Team captain Paige MacKenzie, her team’s success was a measure of redemption. MacKenzie, an LPGA Tour veteran, played in the 2005 Spirit and came away with a silver medal in the International Team division.
"I wanted to win the gold this week badly because I didn’t win gold when I played here,” she said. "Mostly I’m just happy for my team, though. I was really nervous. I know I was more nervous than the players, and I think I was more nervous than their parents.”
The Spirit Golf Association, a 501© (3) charitable organization, is responsible for the Whispering Pines membership program and tournament management of The Spirit International. The Texas Golf Association is the governing association for The Spirit International competition.
For more information on The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship, please contact Tournament Director Eric Fredricksen at 281-298-2664 or email@example.com. For more information, visit The Spirit International website at www.thespiritgolf.com.
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