2011 SEC Champion Erica Popson with SEC Assistant Commissionor Craig Mattox
April 17, 2011
By Zach Stipe, Media Relations Assistant
AUBURN, Ala. - Lady Vol sophomore golfer Erica Popson fired a 2-under 70 and held off a final day charge from the nation's No. 1-ranked player to capture medalist honors at the 2011 SEC Championship on Sunday at the Auburn Golf Club.
A day before her 20th birthday, the Davenport, Fla., native gave herself an early gift by becoming the second Lady Vol ever to win the SEC Championship.
She held off the 2009 SEC Champion and the top NCAA Division I golfer in the Golfstat rankings, Marta Silva of Georgia, and avenged her runner-up performance from a year ago to win by one stroke with a 66-74-70=210 (-6) total at the par-72, 6,354-yard Yarborough Farms course.
"I came out of nowhere last year and I lost in a playoff," Popson said. "That hurt so bad. Last night that's all I could think about. I knew it would hurt if I lost after leading all week. My coaches told me to turn it around and think about how good it will feel to win. That's what I kept thinking about today. I told myself to play to win and to play like a champion."
As a team, the 11th-ranked Lady Vols placed sixth with a 285-308-302=895 (+31) total. Tournament-host Auburn won the team crown with an even-par 864 total. No. 3 Alabama was second (875), while No. 8 LSU placed third (887), No. 12 Arkansas was fourth (892) and South Carolina was fifth (893).
"The first day we played great, but we couldn't take care of business the last two days," Lady Vol head coach Judi Pavon said. "Erica was definitely the bright spot. She is a special player. I'm really happy for her. She lost in a playoff last year and wanted to win so badly. She seethed for a year and came out determined to play well. She was terrific."
Popson led the tournament from wire-to-wire, starting the first round by making four birdies on the front nine on Friday. After carding the lowest first-round score in SEC Championship history, a 6-under 66, Popson stayed strong through a difficult and windy day two to take a one-stroke lead into the final day.
Judi Pavon Video Interview
Arkansas' Emily Tubert and Auburn's Cydney Clanton came into the final day one shot back of Popson, but mutliple front-nine bogeys knocked the pair out of contention early.
That left Silva, who was even through 36 holes, to challenge Popson. The junior Bulldog and Popson were in the same group, making for an exciting individual battle on Sunday after Silva made her presence known with birdies on three of her first six holes.
"(Silva) played well all day," Popson said. "I just kept telling myself to give myself shots at birdies because that is what's going to win the tournament - being aggressive and shooting under par. I just tried to stay focused on myself rather than worrying about what she was going to do."
Popson negated a bogey on No. 3, by birdying the par-5 No. 4 for the third consecutive day. She extended her lead to two shots by putting her tee shot just eight feet from the cup on the par-3 No. 8 hole, easily making the putt to go into the turn 1-under-par for the day.
The Lady Vol sophomore and Silva matched each other hole-for-hole on the back nine, as both birdied No. 12. However, Silva pulled within a stroke by sinking a 15-foot putt on the par-3 No. 17.
Each put their tee shots in the middle of the fairway on the par-4 No. 18, but Silva's approach shot dropped approximately 40 feet left of the cup on the edge of the green, making for a near impossible birdie putt she couldn't convert. Popson put the ball 20 feet from the cup on her second shot and calmly two-putted to claim the first SEC individual title by a Lady Vol since Katharina Larsson won the honor in 1994.
"Today, I walked the last few holes with Erica and she was awesome," Pavon said. "She's tough. Silva was charging, and she just kept doing what she needed to do. She took care of business and kept her emotions under control."
A year ago, Popson finished runner-up at the SEC Championship in Tuscaloosa. After tying with Vanderbilt's Marina Alex for first after 54 holes at 208, she finished second on the second hole of a playoff.
Sunday's victory ties Popson for the most medalist honors in Lady Vol history with Mansson, Marci Turner and Violeta Retamoza. Dating back to the 2010 conference tournament, Popson has five first-place finishes (three wins, two ties) and seven top-10 finishes in 11 competitions.
She has placed first in three straight tournaments, winning the Bryan National by one stroke from March 25-27 and tying with Mansson before falling in a playoff at the Rebel Intercollegiate from April 1-3.
Mansson nabbed a top-20 finish at the SEC Championships for a third consecutive year with her 54-hole total of 72-76-76=224 (+8).
Thomas wrapped up her first conference tournament with a 74-79-78=231 (+15) score, while her classmate Rohrback totaled 76-79-78=233 (+17). Monberg tallied 73-82-78=233 (+17) to match Rohrback.
The Lady Vols will be in action next at an NCAA Regional site from May 5-7, where a top-eight finish will propel the Big Orange to a third straight NCAA Championship. UT finds out on April 25 which site - Daytona Beach, Fla., Auburn, Wash., or Notre Dame, Ind. - it will be traveling to for the chance to compete for the national championship.
|LADY VOL SCORES|
|1.||Erica Popson||66-74-70=210 (-6)|
|t17.||Nathalie Mansson||72-76-76=224 (+8)|
|t36.||Chessey Thomas||74-79-78=231 (+15)|
|t42.||Kaitlyn Rohrback||76-79-78=233 (+17)|
|t42.||Sara Monberg||73-82-78=233 (+17)|