Greg Allen was afraid to break tradition. But he didn’t want to interrupt Marina Alex’s concentration either.
Every year in his five seasons as Vanderbilt’s women’s golf coach, Allen has strolled down the final fairway with his senior golfers. But Alex, the Commodores’ lone senior this spring, was in a “zone,” having birdied three straight holes in the final round at the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship on Friday.
So Allen cautiously joined his star golfer’s side and the two cracked smiles as they walked to the edge of the green on the hole No. 9 – the last of 72 holes over the four-day tournament. Then Alex closed the book on a storied collegiate career with her fourth straight birdie and finished even par for the day, 5-over par 293 and tied for 14th at Vanderbilt Legends Club.
“What a way for her to go out,” Allen said before choking back tears. “I just told her she is by far the best player to ever come through our program, maybe one of the best athletes to ever play at Vanderbilt. I can’t say enough about what that kid means to our program.”
Believed to be the first two-time SEC Player of the Year in any sport at Vanderbilt, Alex was in a tie for 17th as half of the field was still wrapping up. The Commodores shot a 3-under on their home course and finished 11th, a far cry from 22nd after the first day and vast improvement from a 23-over par on Thursday.
Oklahoma's Chirpat Jao-Javanil was the individual champion at 6-under. Alabama won the team title by a stroke over Southern Cal.
“I told them they responded well twice this week,” Allen said. “Too bad we couldn’t play every round in the morning. I don’t know what is about playing in the morning."
Alex bounced back from three straight dismal holes. Even par through 11 holes, she sandwiched two bogeys around a double bogey.
“I kind of got off the fifth hole and I was not happy,” Alex said. “It was a great way to finish, especially with coach and the girls there. There is nothing better than this to be honest.”
Lauren Stratton also felt a sense of relief.
The junior from Spring Hill shot a team best 3-under on Friday and finished 7-over and finished in a tie for 29th. Freshman Kendall Martindale was just one stroke behind in a tie for 33rd.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Stratton endured one of the worst rounds of her career. She carded a 9-over par 81 that included two double bogeys and one triple bogey.
“There is only one option – to get over it,” Stratton said. “I had nothing to lose [Friday]. I just wanted to go out, play solid, play smart, see if I could give myself as many chances as I could.”
Alex and Stratton both were gunning for All-American honors, which were to be announced later on Friday night.
Alex most likely departs as Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in career stroke average (73.1). In four years, the New Jersey native won two tournaments, was runner-up four times and had 24 top 10 finishes.
With her mother, Marissa, on hand all week, she closed one chapter of her golf life with another set to begin next week.
She’ll participate in a U.S. Open qualifier on Tuesday. Next weekend she’ll be just two hours from home, competing as “a nobody” in ShopRite LPGA Classic in Atlantic City, N.J.
“I’m not that sad,” Alex said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It has been exciting. I’m going to miss it for sure. But there so much golf in my future. This is not the last round I’m going to play.”