Kaufman wins first Symetra Tour title in playoff at Sweetgrass Golf Course

HARRIS – Kim Kaufman was autographing golf bags in the media center Sunday when she finally realized what had just happened.

The Symetra Tour rookie was basking in the glow of her first professional golf victory, achieved an hour earlier on the first hole of a sudden death playoff no less.

The Clark, S.D. native and recent Texas Tech University golfer birdied the final two holes of regulation to put the top number of 3-under-par on the scoreboard. Then she had to wait until the final six threesomes finished just to get into the playoff.

“Now it has sunk in,” Kaufman said as she signed a group of Cleveland golf bags for an Island Resort and Casino promotion. The post-tourney celebration on the 18th green was held, TV stations did their interviews, then in the media room she signed 32 flag pole banners after doing a Symetra Tour interview.

Kaufman had a stress-free playoff hole, avoiding trouble and hitting two putts, capped by a short tap-in for the par, to claim the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass. She had a sizzling 4-under-par 68 Sunday to follow rounds of 71-74 for a 213.

That is the highest total in the event’s three years, four strokes higher than Stephanie Kim (2011) and Leah Wigger (2012) recorded at Sweetgrass Golf Club.

Wigger did not return to defend her title this year and Kim withdrew Saturday morning, indicating an ankle injury sustained about a month after her lone Symetra victory was still tender. She had not played until returning a week ago in South Bend, Ind.

Mitsuki Katahira of Tokyo finished second, basically decided when her second shot into the wind on the No. 18 playoff hole landed in a bunker about 75 yards shy of the green. She flew the green from the bunker, then her chip skipped off the green and rolled down the bank. Her chip back just made the green and she one-putted for bogey-6.

“I was afraid I was going to chunk it, then I hit it thin,” Katahira said of her initial chip back to the green.

Katahira said she didn’t look at the scoreboard walking toward the 18th tee but said “I knew I needed a par or better” on her final hole. “I’m (disappointed but) happy with how I finished.”

She said holing out her approach shot for eagle-2 on the 10th hole helped jump-start her back nine surge into the lead. At one point, five players shared the top spot at 2-under but gradually Symetra money leader Sue Kim, Big Break Mexico golfer Taylor Collins, Garrett Phillips and Cathryn Bristow fell back after miscues doomed their title quest.

Phillips, who shared the second-round lead with Katahira at 142, tied for third with Jessi Gebhardt at 215. Hannah Jun, Martina Gavier and Cathryn Bristow shared fifth at 216. Jean Chua had a hole-in-one on No. 12 and tied for 11th at 218 with first-round leader Jenni Jenq.

Big Break Mexico participants Taylor Collins and Stefanie Kenoyer were among those tied at 29th with 220. Kenoyer will appear on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive program Tuesday between 7-9 a.m. A third Big Break Mexico golfer, Emily Talley, missed the cut and carried Kenoyer’s bag Sunday.

Kaufman, a two-time All-American, moved into ninth place on the Volvik Race for the Card money list with $20,986 in three starts. She collected $17,250 Sunday. Sue Kim, who tops the money list, tied for 11th at 218.

Kaufman also had a birdie-3 on No. 14, right on the heels of using a flop shot to land within inches to save par at No. 13. She had two other birdies and a bogey to fashion the day’s low score.

“I knew the girls were coming backward. I knew I just had to hang in there,” said Kaufman.

“I’m pretty comfortable with it,” she said of the flop shot that ignited her closing flurry. “It was nice to come through when I needed it. It was a great save to make par and was probably bigger than I thought it was at the time.”

Closing with birdies on 17-18 was huge because she bogied both holes Saturday, something she hadn’t even thought about until the question was raised while she signed the golf bags.

Her goal on 17 and 18 “was to hit the green today. I took it one shot at a time,” she said. “Once I was there I felt good about putting.”

Kaufman said the wait for the playoff “was not fun. It felt like an eternity. I began to warm up when she (Katahira) got through 16. At the range (a long par five to the west) it was eery. There were some nerves in the air.”

Once she arrived at the 18th green to learn about the playoff plan (No. 18 would have been used until a winner was decided) she said “I was ready to go.”

She had seen the leaderboard after leaving No. 17 green in regulation but said her focus was on playing the final hole. “You see it but you still stick to what you do because they had so many holes to play,” Kaufman said.

While the victory was starting to sink in, she checked her cell phone and found 45 text messages. As she put her trophy, Potawatomi title blanket and the huge fake check in her car, she realized she hadn’t called her parents yet but figured they already knew what happened.

“It feels like all the things I’ve done the last 10 years paid off,” she said of the victory. “You don’t expect it to happen so soon. You watch someone else do it and never think it could be you.”