Players battle weather in 1st round of Class 3-A girls golf final

One by one, some of the state's best high-school golfers mustered a wan smile as they turned in their scorecards at Port Royal Golf Club.

With gusty winds ruling the day on the Barony layout, not to mention intermittent rain, Monday's opening round of the Class AAA state girls championship quickly turned into a survival test.

"That was pretty rough, yeah," acknowledged Smith Knaffle of Murrells Inlet St. James.

"My worst round of the year," offered defending champion Victoria Huskey of Travelers Rest.

Asked for the highlight of her round, Lancaster's Baylee Evans said: "Nothing. Nothing was a highlight."

And those were some of the leaders.

What didn't change all that much was the order atop the leaderboard, where St. James held a six-shot lead on Travelers Rest as the last of the chilly, damp golfers and coaches finally headed back for a hot shower.

With Knaffle's 3-over-par 75 and Kelli Smith's 79 giving the Sharks two of just seven scores all day to break 80, St. James soldiered home with a team score of 334. Travelers Rest, paced by Huskey's 78, posted a 340 that stayed two shots ahead of Daniel.

"That's the worst score we've shot all year," said Knaffle, "and we're still leading."

St. James romped at last week's Lower State regionals, as Knaffle and teammates posted four of the top five individual scores.

Evans and Daniel's Katie Whitfield also posted 75s to join Knaffle in a three-way tie for individual honors, with Huskey next but needing to make up three strokes.

Hilton Head Island was fifth at 360, two shots behind Piedmont Wren. Meredith Wipper paced the Seahawks with an 80, leaving her in a tie for individual eighth.

"It wasn't the best conditions, but everyone played in the same thing," said Wipper, who missed last year's state finals following the death of her grandfather. "(Tuesday) the weather isn't supposed to be that good, either, so you take what you did today and learn from it."

Tuesday's forecast calls for lighter winds, topping out at about 15 mph, but with showers moving in and out of the area. Barring an extended delay for lightning or standing water, officials plan to complete the full 36 holes before crowning a champion.

"Tomorrow's a new day," St. James coach Denise Noll said. "That's the way you've got to think of it."

Certainly there were plenty of golfers eager to put Monday behind them. Only four teams didn't have to count a round in the triple digits, and four squads saw each of their golfers shoot no better than a 99.

The long par-4 13th, playing straight upwind, was especially perplexing.

"It took me three shots to get onto the green," Evans noted.

Wipper, playing in the same group, was equally dismayed to see her drive knocked down to face a 200-yard second shot. She tried to overpower her next shot, watching it hook into the water.

"They added up after a while," Wipper said.

Other top entrants found themselves tripped up at some point in their rounds. Knaffle carded a double bogey at the par-4 12th, and Whitfield had three doubles -- though she countered that with four birdies on the day.

Whitfield, in fact, might have been the only golfer who didn't have to force a smile at the end of her round.

"I'm super happy with a 75," said the Daniel golfer, who finished among the later groups and knew before she reached the scoring area that she was tied for the lead.

"My dad had already gone to the scoreboard," she explained, "and when he came back he was in tears. Then I started to get teary."

Whitfield endured a rough patch around the turn, when her third double bogey of the day dropped her to 5-over. But she chipped in for birdie at the par-3 14th, then birdied again at No. 15 to pull back even with the leaders.

Evans, playing as an individual, didn't card anything worse than a bogey all day. But her last one was a little painful, unable to save par that would have put her in the lead by herself.

"It was a battle," she said, "between trying to get birdies and just trying save par."