ANACONDA — Kylie Esh opened her sophomore season with a top-10 finish by shooting a 3-over 75 on Tuesday in the final round of the Battle at Old Works at the Old Works Golf Course.
Esh, who played 54 holes with nothing worse than a bogey on her scorecards, was one of five Grizzlies to card a third-round score in the 70s as Montana shot a 306 on Tuesday to finish seventh out of 10 teams.
It’s the type of tournament that Esh, under better circumstances, could win one day, but given her hiatus from competitive golf for most of the summer due to injury, rounds of 75, 76 and 75 was just fine as a starting point.
“I didn’t expect to go out and shoot low 70s, just because I haven’t been in a tournament setting in a really long time,” she said. “I was happy with how I played, especially today, with the wind and the rain. It was really bad for a couple of holes. I know I can do better, but I’m happy with how I did.”
With conditions that peaked — on the good side — at unpleasant and an hour in had tournament organizers calling in volunteer officials from the course — while the golfers soldiered on — Montana shot its best round of the tournament.
Sophomore Allison Sobol shot a 2-over 74, Esh a 75, junior Faith D’Ortenzio a 78 and sophomore Brooklyn Van Bebber a 79. Competing as an individual, freshman Emmy Sundby shot a 77.
Montana was the only team in the field that had its best score on the worst weather day of the tournament.
“It was a tough day for all the teams. It was cold out there. It really affected how we approached the greens,” said coach Kris Nord. “We were a little gun-shy after yesterday, when they were really quick.
“We putted a little bit better, but I still feel like we’re scratching the surface of what we can shoot as team if we go out and get hot. I don’t feel like we’ve done that yet. Of course it’s our first tournament.”
Esh finished in a three-way tie for 10th with players from UC Irvine and North Dakota State. Eastern Washington’s Madalyn Ardueser (71-70-69) won the tournament by seven strokes at 6-under.
Sobol’s strong finish allowed her to tie for 26th in the overall standings, a position she shared with freshman Tricia Joyce, who carded a 70 on Monday afternoon, in between rounds of 81 and 80.
It was Joyce’s first collegiate competition, conveniently located just up the road from her hometown of Butte.
“I’ve played (Old Works) quite a few times, so I’m pretty familiar with the course,” said Joyce, who pointed to the bogey 5 she scored on her final hole of Monday’s opening round as the spark for the ensuing 2-under 70.
“That got me pretty mad, so I just tried to refocus,” she said. “I only missed one green in the second round. I was just hitting the ball really well. I tried not to think about how well I was playing.”
Four true freshmen made their collegiate debuts this week. Jessica Ponce earned a spot in Montana’s scoring five and scored consistently, carding three 80s.
Sundby, at 77, had her best round of the tournament on Tuesday. Margaret Harmon, at 81, had her best round on Monday afternoon.
“All of our freshmen can shoot better than they shot,” said Nord. “What I was impressed with was how they handled themselves when it was going badly. They stayed on track, going to the next shot, the next hole.
“They did that real well. They are letting go of the bad stuff and trying to focus on the next shot, and that’s what we have to do.”
Cal Poly (288-297-300) won the team title by three strokes over Eastern Washington (294-295-299), which was the only team to shoot three sub-300 rounds. North Dakota State (289-305-305) came in third.
Montana will compete again in two weeks, at the Rose City Collegiate, which will be played at the Langdon Farms Golf Club in Aurora, Oregon.
“I think this tournament went well,” said Esh. “I know it wasn’t what any of us wanted, but you have to take into account there are eight underclassmen and four of them are freshmen.
“I’m happy we have room to grow, and I know we will grow.”
— Montana Sports Information