BOZEMAN — Not since 1995, when Jen McGregor won the individual tournament championship in women’s golf, has Montana State had a Big Sky Conference champion. Until this year, that is. On Tuesday, Paige Crawford joined McGregor as the only other Bobcat to claim that medalist honor.
Crawford set a 54-hole championship record with a score of eight-under-par 208 after firing a 73 during Sunday’s first round, a 68 on Monday, and a 67 on Tuesday (that also set a single round championship record). The previous record of 210 was set by Portland State’s Britney Yada in 2011.
Crawford finished the first round in fifth place, a good day in terms of numbers but not what she was expecting. “I was a little disappointed after the first round,” Crawford said. “I didn’t think my score really reflected how well I had played. But I knew had to be patient and that my putting would click and the ball would start falling for me.” Knowing that day two of the tournament would be a new day and another opportunity to play her best, Crawford quickly found more confidence in her golf game, “Once I shot that 68 (Monday) I felt like things were clicking. Everything was coming into place. And mentally also, things were all coming together. I was just going into the final round thinking, just hit smart shots and see what happens and try to stay relaxed.”
After winning the title being doused with water by her teammates on the practice green, Crawford was still in shock about what she had just accomplished, “To be honest I don’t really know if it has hit me yet,” said Crawford. “I am just so grateful for winning the Big Sky and to get records along with that, that is amazing,” added Crawford. “It’s hard to describe how I feel right now.”
The tournament title marked Crawford’s first collegiate victory. “It seems so unreal,” she said. “It’s amazing that everything came together and I played the best golf of my life.” She has competed in every tournament for the Bobcats the last two years. As a sophomore at last year’s Big Sky Championship, she placed 15th overall.
Crawford, a junior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, began playing her best golf at just the right time. She felt very confident going into the conference tournament because she placed in the top ten in two of the last three regular season tournaments. But she didn’t feel that way all season long. “Mentally, I learned a lot for what works for me from the fall to the spring season,” she said. “My mental game is much better. The little things don’t bother me as much. I was more of a perfectionist, now it’s more of taking one shot at a time.”
Before the conference tournament, Crawford’s highest finish was third at the Bobcat Invitational in September. She shot 222 (73-72-77) for the three day tournament and will admit she struggled during the final round of the fall season opener. “I messed up because of the pressure but it helped me gain some experience on how to lead a tournament and helped me realize how to stay calm and focus.”
Realizing how much a little hard work can go, Crawford was determined to finish the spring season on a high note. She said, “I push myself. I always know I have to keep working hard.” When asked about being the number one all season Crawford added, “I don’t think it has to do with pressure, you just try to set an example for the younger girls and try to help them learn for when they get their chance. Everyone wants them to do well for when they are in my spot.”
During head coach Brittany Basye’s tenure as coach, Crawford is the first player to finish the Big Sky Championship in first place. “Paige found her rhythm and was able to stay there,” said Basye. “It’s awesome to have her play so well and it’s really fun.” Both coach and player understand how the practice has helped Crawford play at the championship level. “Coach has been helping me a lot,” said Crawford. “I started to get back the feel I used to have. Once you get the confidence, you feel like you can make anything, and that’s how I felt this week.’’
With her teammates and family there to support her, Crawford tried to keep things as simple and routine as possible coming into the final day of the tournament. “I was able to hang out with my parents in the evening,” she said. “Doing the normal stuff and keeping my mind off the tournament and relaxing. I kept my same routine from how I warm up, same music and stretching. That all helped keep the pressure away. My thought process was just to hit the ball, not to think about numbers. When I was on the course, I was thinking I just needed to keep making birdies, because I didn’t know what everyone else was doing.”
Crawford is very happy to make history in the Bobcat golf program but feels there is plenty more to accomplish next year. But for now, she can relax for a while. She is the reigning Big Sky champion, and she doesn’t have to worry about anyone catching up to her. “I feel like this is just the beginning of what I want to do with my life,” she said. Maybe next season she can make history again — by becoming the first Bobcat ever to win back-to-back conference championships.
— MSU Sports Information