Stephanie Meadow allowed the emotion to creep into her voice as she closed a speech Sunday in the Long Cove Club dining room.
The Alabama sophomore earned medalist honors at the inaugural Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, finishing 5-under par in the weather-shortened, 36-hole event. She won for the fifth time at the college level, extending her school record. But this one might have meant the most.
The 20-year-old from Northern Ireland calls Hilton Head Island home. She and her family moved here when she was 14 so Meadow could pursue her golf at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy.
In closing her speech, she thanked her Crimson Tide teammates and her parents, who own a home on Hilton Head and live here during Meadow's spring semester.
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"It's pretty special to win here, at your home," said Meadow, who shot rounds of 67-70 on the par-71 layout. "I'm going to go home now, see what I can do better and go win the next one."
Meadow's performance helped propel second-ranked Alabama to its second team victory of the academic year. The Crimson Tide finished 3 over, 11 shots clear of North Carolina. After the awards, Crimson Tide players fled for the lawn outside and took pictures with their team trophy, a special edition guitar signed by recording artist and South Carolina native Darius Rucker.
After storms halted play Saturday, tournament officials chopped the event to 36 holes, with players finishing their final round Sunday morning. Meadow's first stroke was to convert a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 12. She followed with back-to-back bogeys, her first two bogeys of the tournament, to fall back to 5-under par. But she held her round together through tough winds and finished three shots ahead of teammate Brooke Pancake.
The host South Carolina Gamecocks, whose event drew rave reviews its first year, finished eighth. The Gamecocks' director of golf and tournament co-director Puggy Blackmon said talks were under way to decide next year's dates at Long Cove Club. Blackmon said the Gamecocks made too many big numbers Sunday to move up the leaderboard in tough conditions. He praised the job of fifth-year head coach Kalen Harris, who has helped the Gamecocks to consecutive NCAA Championship appearances and a victory at the 2010 NCAA Regional. But he said they weren't yet at Alabama's level.
The Crimson Tide, under coach Mic Potter, boast six consecutive NCAA Championship appearances. The program has only one other NCAA Championship appearance outside the six-year run. After winning the school's first regional in 2011, Alabama is gunning for a national title. The Crimson Tide received a morale boost by defeating top-ranked UCLA during the fall semester.
Potter said his focus lies with his players, that he felt the team's success at Long Cove Club was buoyed by the fact it can get better.
"I don't spend a lot of time worrying about other teams," Potter said. "I spend a lot of time worrying about getting each one of our players better. We can go to any tournament, and if I feel like we've prepared well and played our best, whatever result we get, I'm going to be happy with. But if we do that, we're difficult to beat."
All-Americans Meadow, Pancake and Jennifer Kirby lead the way. Meadow and Pancake could face off in June's Curtis Cup -- Meadow on the team from Great Britain and Ireland and Pancake on the American squad.
Pancake's place on the U.S. team is secure. Meadow will compete at team trials in Scotland March 23-25 for a spot on the eight-player team.
The trip comes during a busy month for Meadow. She'll try to squeeze in college tournaments at Florida and Georgia before the SEC Championships in April.
"I'm going to try and get as much rest as I can and be ready for that and be ready when I come back over here to play in Georgia," Meadow said. "If I can go over there and do what I do best, I'll be fine."
DARIUS RUCKER INTERCOLLEGIATE
Final round at Long Cove Club, par 71
*Event shortened to 36 holes. Full results available at www.golfstatresults.com
Individual results, top 10 and ties
Stephanie Meadow, Alabama 67-70--137
Brooke Pancake, Alabama 71-69--140
Katherine Perry, North Carolina 72-69--141
Brooke Beeler, Texas Christian 71-71--142
Marta Silva Zamora, Georgia 71-71--142
Katie Burnett, South Carolina 72-71--143
Brittany Altomare, Virgnia 73-72--145
Hannah Collier, Alabama 74-71--145
Briana Mao, Virginia 73-72--145
Marina Alex, Vanderbilt 76-60--146
Allie White, North Carolina 74-72--146
North Carolina 292-290--582
Central Florida 297-299--596
Texas Christian 301-301--602
South Carolina 303-301--604
Wake Forest 302-306--608
Notre Dame 301-319--620
Coastal Carolina 307-314--621
USC Beaufort 327-333--660