Helene D’Andrea already overcame a three-hole deficit once, but she’d have to do it again during the 97th Cleveland Women’s Golf Association District Championship on Friday at Columbia Hills Golf Course in Columbia Station.
Playing five rounds in four days, not to mention a practice round, D’Andrea, of Elyria Country Club, was locking horns with Chagrin Valley Country Club member Dawn Swit, of Chagrin Falls, in the 36-hole title match of the championship flight.
Swit, who began playing seriously in 2010, was chasing her first CWGA district title after finishing runner-up to Julia Goodson, of Lake Forest, in 2018, while D’Andrea was the 2001 CWGA district champion, when she was a 19-year-old college golfer and represented Lakewood Country Club with her maiden name Thoman.
“I wish I only had to do it once,” D’Andrea said of overcoming a three-hole deficit in match play on Friday. She lost the first three holes against Swit, then won four of the next five holes to go 1-up with a birdie on the par-4 ninth hole.
But in a back-and-forth early battle, D’Andrea was 3-down, again, after 18.
“Yeah, 36 holes is a grind,” she said. “You have to be really, really patient, because lots can happen. And I played in college, so we played 36 holes quite a bit. Although, I’m several years removed from that. So, it’s been I don’t know how long since I’ve played it in one day, but I was just trying to be patient and take one shot at a time.”
With the stimpmeter reading a 12 for some extremely fast greens and the pin placement at Columbia Hills nothing short of challenging, a lot was to be determined on the latter 18 holes.
D’Andrea, a 2000 Bay High School graduate, finished 10th during the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament her senior year, before going on to play collegiately at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and at the University of Toledo. She remained in Toledo before moving back to Northeast Ohio last season.
While Swit was the CWGA district runner-up last year, the 2018 tournament was switched from match play to stroke play, with two 18-hole rounds, because of washout weather at Lakewood Country Club.
“That 36-hole final is not only a skilled match, but it’s a stamina match, and I’ve never played 36 holes walking,” Swit said about Friday’s title play. “So, for me, it was a lot of unknowns. You know, what am I going to feel like and am I going to get mentally drained? And I learned a lot about how to play, you know, when you’re physically and sort of mentally spent. I learned some things playing in that round.”
Overall, 56 golfers from 14 CWGA clubs played in the qualifying round last Tuesday, before seeded match play began on Wednesday with seven flights. Ten gals entered the tournament with single-digit handicaps, including Swit, 3.6, and D’Andrea, 4.1.
Other notable contenders included 2017 CWGA district champ Chris Shibley, 7.6, of Barrington Golf Club; 2016 district champ Kathy Klindera, 8.1, of Kirtland Country Club; 2013 district champ Noelle Fazio, 9.1, of The County Club in Pepper Pike; not to mention Chagrin Valley members Joanne Vogt, 9.8, and Sharen Bakke, 8.4, who both made the championship flight of eight golfers with low scores from Tuesday’s qualifier.
The medalist of Tuesday’s qualifier, Swit fired a 1-under 72 to best her nearest competitor, Christine Carroll, 10.6, of Elyria Country Club, by seven strokes. A 6-handicap golfer last summer who is now down to a 2.6 index, Swit said shooting sub-par was the best round of her career.
“I was dialed in,” she said. “It was my approach shots. You know, if it was 110 yards, I calibrated for the wind or the conditions, and I had a bunch of tap-in birdies, which offset any of the bogeys that I got. So, that was a lot of fun. For sure, that was the highlight of my season.”
D’Andrea finished seven strokes over par for the qualifier round, while Bakke was eight over and Klindera was nine over.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinal round of the championship flight, Swit defeated fellow Chagrin Valley member Vogt, 4 and 3; D’Andrea defeated Jenn Grimes, of host Columbia Hills, 6 and 5; Bakke defeated Klindera, 2 and 1; and Carroll beat Shibley on a 19th-hole tiebreaker.
Vogt would go on to win the championship consolation flight with wins against Klindera, 2 and 1, and against Grimes, 4 and 3.
D’Andrea said Grimes hosted her at Columbia Hills during practice rounds earlier in the summer and that their quarterfinal match was friendly but at the same time very serious.
“Columbia Hills is very much a placement golf course,” D’Andrea said. “So, you have to be in the right place attacking the greens from the fairway, but then you also have to hit your fairway shot to the right place on the green. Even though the greens are teeny, teeny tiny, you have to be on the right side of the pin and know where that is.
“And there’s lots of different tee boxes. You know, I’m not pulling a driver every single time. So, it’s a very thought-provoking golf course for me. At no point can you relax and just swing away there, particularly not for my game.”
While D’Andrea said she owns an advantage against most of her peers with the distance of her driver, the number of doglegs and hole shapes at Columbia Hills limited that asset in her toolbox.
Columbia Hills, 166 acres of land initially acquired to be used as a pig farm in 1926 – a plan that fell through without the municipality for direct delivery of food for those pigs – is 5,464 yards from the red tees, which the CWGA ladies played last week. But the doglegs and difficulty of greens make it a par-73 course.
“Columbia Hills, they’re kind of known for their greens,” Swit said. “And there’s a lot of very steep slope, and then they can make the pin placements really, really challenging. If you are above the pin, you are almost guaranteed to three-putt. So, some of the holes I played to miss. I just played it short.”
In the semifinal round of the championship flight on Thursday, Swit defeated fellow Chagrin Valley member Bakke, 4 and 3, while D’Andrea beat fellow Elyria member Carroll, 6 and 4.
In the 36-hole championship on Friday, Swit went 3-up on the first three holes, D’Andrea won the fifth, sixth and eighth holes to even the match and then went 1-up with a birdie on the par-4 ninth hole.
But Swit caught fire again to win the 10th hole, birdied the par-3 11th hole and finished the final four holes of the morning round with three pars and another birdie on the par-4 17th hole to reclaim a 3-up lead after 18.
“I think I had more energy in the first 18, and I was feeling like a more traditional round, where my stamina was good, and that was what was working well,” Swit said. “My putting was also working well, and the couple of mistakes that (D’Andrea) did make on the front, I was able to capitalize on that.
“And then we stopped for lunch, and that was maybe a mistake on my part. The back 18, I wasn’t hitting my shots as pure. My energy started to wane, and my approach shots that I normally love weren’t coming as easy.”
While D’Andrea was tasked with overcoming her second three-hole deficit of the match, she did that and then some.
Behind eight pars and one bogey on the next nine holes after lunch, D’Andrea went from 3-down to 3-up with nine holes to play.
“I think I just focused a little bit harder,” she said. “I didn’t like starting at a deficit and particularly not a three-point deficit. So, I knew that I needed to come back and come back fast if I was going to have an opportunity to win the match. I think that focused me. I think playing in front of people focused me. And I think I just got my act together, to be honest.”
Swit brought it back within two points with a birdie on the par-4 12th hole, but then D’Andrea grabbed the largest lead of the match, 4-up, after a birdie on the par-5 14th hole, which features a dogleg over the west branch of the Rocky River and an uphill approach shot to the most challenging green on the course, with two greenside bunkers and the pin located on the downside of a steep slope.
Two holes later, D’Andrea put the match away, 4 and 2, to win her first CWGA District Championship in 18 years, previously defeating two-time champion Katie Redeker, of Pepper Pike, in 2001.
“Dawn (Swit) was a fantastic competitor,” D’Andrea said. “She has a very elegant game and was very straight and hit shots very close to the pin on a very regular basis. I knew I’d have to play well, let’s put it that way. And, as fierce as the competition is, I had some really pleasant matches. I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful for that. They were very, very fun.”
Other flight winners were Katy Kahler, of Westwood Country Club, Fazio, Diane Campbell, of Canterbury Golf Club, Suzanne Dick, of The Country Club, Jean Karaffa, of Columbia Hills, and Cindy Miller, of Columbia Hills.
Swit also expressed pleasure in her competition.
“I’m disappointed, because I really wanted to win, but I loved my opponent,” she said. “Helene (D’Andrea) is such a nice person, and, when I found out she was in the finals with me, I was actually really looking forward to it, because she’s a delightful person and an amazing golfer. So, win or lose, it was going to be an enjoyable day. And it was.”