The 2017 Sunshine State Conference Women's Golf Championships get underway this weekend at The Country Club of Winter Haven, with Florida Southern College serving as host for the 3-day tournament. It's the second time the SSC Championships have been held at The Country Club of Winter Haven with the first occurrence in 2009 when it was known as Lake Region Yacht and Country Club. That also marks the last time Florida Southern has hosted the event.
A total of three rounds will be played from Sunday through Tuesday, with one round each day beginning at 8 a.m. First-round pairings will be determined by the Golf Stat team rankings, with second and third-round pairings based on team scores up to that point. Live stats will be available throughout the tournament at the SSC Championships Home Page.
Scoring in the tournament will consist of stroke play for all three rounds, with teams playing a maximum of five golfers. The four lowest scores in each round count toward the team score. If two or more teams are tied at the end of regulation play for the championship, then those teams will compete in a sudden death playoff on a pre-determined hole using the same scoring format (four lowest scores counting). Any golfers tied for medalist honors will also compete in a one-hole playoff to determine the SSC individual champion.
The SSC Tournament annually features the very best Division II teams in the country and this year is no exception. Six of the top 10 teams in the most recent Golfstat rankings are from the Sunshine State Conference and all of them are expected to receive bids to the NCAA South Super Regional in May regardless of the outcome of the SSC Tournament. Heading that list is top-ranked Barry and third-ranked Rollins. Nova Southeastern, Saint Leo and Florida Tech are ranked No. 5, 6, and 8 respectively, and Lynn is No. 10. Florida Southern is also among the nation's highest ranked teams and will enter the tournament at No. 22 in the country.
More importantly for the Moccasins is their place in the recent NCAA regional rankings where they are currently 13th. With the top 12 teams earning a spot in the Super Regional, it puts them right on the edge of qualification, and a strong showing in the SSC Tournament may boost their chances. The Mocs have beaten Nova Southeastern and Lynn on two occasions this season and finished within five shots of Rollins, Saint Leo and Florida Tech in different tournaments.
Florida Southern has one tournament win this season, with that coming in the GolfRank Invitational hosted by Nova Southeastern in October where they defeated both Nova and Lynn. Though they do not have a tournament win in the spring semester, the Moccasins have improved their team scoring average by five shots, have posted a pair of third-place finishes and one fourth. One of those third-place finishes came in their most recent tournament, the Argonaut Invitational hosted by the University of West Florida.
Two of the Moccasin golfers, senior Britta Bernth and junior Abbey Williams, will be playing in their third consecutive SSC Tournament. Two years ago in their first appearance, they were fourth and fifth on the team for the Moccasins at RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento; last year they were first and second on the team in the tournament held at Key Biscayne, placing 16th and 17th respectively overall, just one stroke apart in the standings.
Bernth has come on strong in the last two regular season tournaments, turning in a 76.00 stroke average during that time. She had her best finish of the season in the Argonaut Invitational where she placed 11th and has shot a 79 or better in all but two rounds this spring.
Williams is second on the team overall this season with a 77.71 stroke average after leading the team least year at 78.41. She has four top-10 finishes, one more than she had as a sophomore when she qualified for the NCAA South Super Regional as an individual.
Fifth-year senior Shannon McKew also played in last year's NCAA regional tournament as an individual qualifier and will be making her second appearance at the SSC Championships. She owns a 78.70 stroke average, with her best finish coming in the Barton Invitational at Kiawah Island where she placed third.
Sophomore Tori Higgins and freshman Amanda Gartrell will be playing in the SSC Championships for the first time, but they have two of the top three averages for the Moccasins this season. Higgins has the team's only individual win, capturing the GolfRank Invitational in October with an even-par 144, a tournament that also included Nova Southeastern and Lynn. Higgins, who is averaging 78.29 strokes per round, was also tied with Williams as the Mocs' top performer at the Peggy Kirk Bell Memorial Invitational hosted by Rollins in March.
Florida Southern's best average belongs to Gartrell, who sits at 76.58 for the entire season but has been even better the last four tournaments. During that time, Gartrell has averaged 75.00 strokes per round, finished third at the Lady Moc Classic and tied with Williams for eighth at the Argonaut Invitational. She's also tied with Williams for the team lead with four top-10 finishes overall, and has a pair of thirds.
The Moccasins have won the SSC title four times under head coach Robbie Davis in the 18 years the conference has conducted a championship tournament. Their most recent title came in 2013 when they defeated Nova Southeastern in a playoff. It's the only time a playoff has been needed to determine the team champion at the SSC Tournament. That makes Florida Southern one of five different schools to win the SSC Tournament over the last five years: Nova Southeastern (2012), Florida Southern (2013), Lynn (2014), Barry (2015) and Rollins (2016).
The Tars won last year's tournament by four shots over Nova Southeastern, which marked the sixth year in a row it's been decided by four shots or less. The individual champion was Saint Leo's Marie Coors who had a final score of seven-over par 223, giving her a six-stroke win over teammate Vilde Eriksen. Both players return and Coors will be going for the third SSC individual title of her career. She also won the tournament as a freshman in 2014 and could join Sandra Changkija from Nova Southeastern (2008, 2010, and 2012) as the only 3-time individual champions.
Florida Southern's last individual champion was Jana Peterkova in 2002, though the Moccasins have had four runner-ups since then, including Emily Rymer in 2014 and '15.
Following the SSC Championships, selections for the NCAA playoffs will be announced on Monday, May 1. The top 12 teams from each region, along with the top six individuals not on one of those teams, will earn bids to their respective Super Regional Tournaments, with the South being held at The Members Club at Woodcreek in Elgin, South Carolina, May 8-10. The NCAA Division II National Finals are at Findlay Country Club in Findlay, Ohio, May 17-20.