CHATTANOOGA—The scene was set as Hanley Long walked up the 18th fairway at Black Creek Club on Thursday.
With her dad caddying, her mom not far away, and her college coach and teammates standing off the green, Long had a one-stroke lead in the 87th annual Tennessee Women’s Amateur.
It was her final competitive round as an amateur golfer. She had the perfect opportunity to write her own fairytale ending.
And that’s what she did.
Long hit a shot out of the greenside bunker to ten feet and then made the clutch putt with a fist pump to punctuate it. After Malia Stovall missed her birdie putt that would have forced a playoff, Long high-fived her dad, Joey, and fell into his arms in a celebratory hug.
“I’m going out on top,” Joey laughed. Hanley couldn’t have scripted it any better. The end.
“This still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Long said. “It’s very surreal.”
“It’s definitely a huge weight off my chest. I’ve been so close to winning tournaments before and I’ve just let it slip through my fingers. I was happy that I was put in this position again and I could prove to myself that I could execute, especially since this was my last amateur tournament.”
It marked the fourth Tennessee Golf Association state championship for Long, but the first individual one. Her and former Middle Tennessee State University teammate Jenna Burris won three of the last four Tennessee Women’s Four-Ball titles.
In fact, Long said it was the first individual win of any kind for her since her prep days at Rossview High School, despite the fact that she had a highly successful collegiate career. She was named the Conference USA Golfer of the Year in 2018-19 while setting the MTSU record for single season stroke average.
Long is the second consecutive Clarksville golfer to win the Tennessee Women’s Amateur crown, following last year’s champion Mariah Smith. Smith was one of the first competitors to greet Long with a congratulatory hug on the 18th green.
Stovall (Winchester) and 14-year-old Sophie Linder (Carthage) finished tied for second at 4-under, one stroke behind Long. Both had birdie putts on the 18th green that could have changed the narrative.
Long (70-70-71–211) and Stovall (71-70-71–212) were the only two players in the tournament who turned in under-par rounds all three days.
Stovall, a rising sophomore at the University of Tennessee and the 2016 Tennessee Girls’ Junior Amateur champion, was the solo leader of the tournament after birdies on holes 4 and 6 got her to 5-under. She bogeyed three of her next six holes before back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15 pulled her back to within one stroke of the lead.
Linder also showed the way at one point on Thursday as she birdied No. 14 to get to 5-under. The next hole proved to be the difference, though, as Long birdied from 25 feet and Linder bogeyed to switch their positions on the leaderboard.
After playing the first 14 holes of the final round in even par, Long was searching for some late magic on the final stretch of holes. A familiar voice provided her with some encouragement before she walked onto the 15th green.
“That hole was very pivotal,” Long said. “I was pretty frustrated that I left 14 without a birdie because I was almost on the green in two.”
“Right before I went up to the 15th green, Chris Adams, my coach at MTSU, was like ‘All you need is one. You just need one to fall’. So I was like, alright, this is going to be the one. It literally went right in the middle of the cup. Sophie left her par putt maybe two rotations short and right there I could feel the momentum shift.”
Two-time Tennessee Girls’ Junior champion Aubree Jones turned in the low round of the tournament on Thursday as she fired a 6-under, 66. That shot her up the leaderboard to a 1-over, 217 finish, good enough for a tie for fourth. Auburn University golfer Kayley Marschke also finished at 217.
Tying for sixth at 3-over, 219 were Clarksville High School’s McKinley Cunningham and University of Tennessee-Chattanooga golfer Maddy McDanel.
MTSU golfer Savannah Quick and University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Savannah Quick tied for eighth at 4-over, 220. Defending tournament champion Mariah Smith rounded out the top 10 at 5-over, 221.