By ANDY WOLF
University of Findlay senior Samantha Hatter got her first taste of the Division II women’s golf national championships as a freshman in 2016.
She was, of course, in awe being there and “seeing all these great teams,” having heard how great they were.
“We got the opportunity and were just lucky to be there,” she said.
The Oilers, who were making a third straight trip to the nationals in 2016, finished ninth that year.
UF hasn’t been back since, but Hatter and her teammates punched their ticket again with authority this season.
Findlay captured the East Regional championship last week and will begin the national championship today at the PGA National Resort and Spa in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Now I know we deserve to be there,” Hatter said.
The women’s tournament is in a brand new format with 54 holes of stroke play and eight of the 16 teams qualifying for medal match play.
The top team after three rounds will be pitted against the eighth team and so on, with pairings determined by the 54-hole scores. Each coach will put up a golfer and that twosome will play 18 holes for one point. Best of five advances until one team is left.
“We call them ‘destinations’ on our team,” Hatter said. “One of our final destinations is to make final match play.”
The regional title was the first in school history for UF. It also stopped a string of seven straight championships by Indianapolis — the defending national champions — as the Oilers made up a six-shot deficit in the final round to win by eight strokes.
All sixth-year UF coach Dominic Guarnieri ever knew was Indianapolis winning regional titles.
“It’s always been something I wanted to do as a coach, was win a regional event,” he said.
Hatter is one of two seniors on the team with Makenzie Torres. Torres qualified for nationals as an individual last season and finished 30th.
Also on UF’s regional fivesome are junior Meredith Whipper, sophomore Kristina Kniesly and freshman Jill Schmitmeyer.
“It’s easier for me to convince my other teammates we deserve to be there, too,” Hatter said. “Just go out and play your game. It’s just another tournament.”
None of the UF golfers have played at the PGA National Resort before.
Yet, Guarnieri feels it’s a course where they can use their length to their advantage by staying on the fairway.
The teams do get a few practice rounds to adjust and figure out a plan of attack.
Hatter noted the team’s strategy of “survive and advance” got them through regionals without thinking about a team title.
But after a grueling, five-hour final round, Hatter couldn’t wait any longer to know where they stood.
She was the first UF player to come in and followed the results live, online via her dad’s phone.
One by one, she got to update her teammates that followed her in.
“It was the relief on their face and how excited we all were, to share that moment together is something I’ll never forget,” Hatter said.
The regional title, however, doesn’t change anything for their mentality going into nationals.
To her, it’s mostly about “believing in yourself,”
“We know we can create good shots; we’ve done it in the past,” Hatter said. “We’ve done everything we can up to this point so now it’s just getting out there and showing people what we can do.
“We don’t go out there to shoot a certain score; we go out there to have fun and play the game that we love to play.”