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Gilliam defends Tennessee Girls' Junior Title In Record-Breaking Fashion

MURFREESBORO ­– Ashley Gilliam has no problem finding motivation when it comes to the Tennessee Girls’ Junior Amateur.


Her mother, Jennifer (Haley), won the championship back in 1989.  Gilliam’s good friend Aubree Jones went back-to-back in 2014 and 2015.


Gilliam’s goal has always been to win the tournament more than both of them.  She’s well on her way.


The Manchester native and Mississippi State University commitment claimed her second straight Tennessee Girls’ Junior title in record-breaking fashion Thursday afternoon, turning in a final round 6-under, 66 to finish 14 strokes ahead of runner-up Kara Carter (Kingsport).


“It means a lot (to win this tournament),” Gilliam said.  “I grew up knowing that (my mom) had won it.  Having my name on the trophy close to hers is really special.”


Gilliam shattered the scoring records that she set just a year ago in the event, finishing with a 15-under, 201 total.  Both of those are tournament bests.  Last year she finished at 8-under, 208.


Gilliam also broke the tournament records for lowest final round score (66) and lowest final 36 holes (134), and also tied the record for lowest overall round (66) and lowest overall round to par (-6).


“Even though I won last year, I definitely learned a lot from the final round,” Gilliam said.  She finished the 2017 tournament with a 2-over round and needed a playoff to claim the victory.  “Just to keep pushing and don’t just settle for where you are at.”


“I just tried to think that this was not the final round and just keep trying to go low, and focus on my score and not what everyone else is doing.”


Gilliam started the second round with a six-stroke lead over Clarksville’s McKinley Cunningham and was never really in danger of losing it on the final day as she started her round with back-to-back birdies.


Gilliam had a small hiccup with a bogey on No. 4, her lone hole played over par the entire tournament, but she quickly got back on track. 


Beginning with No. 6, she had a stretch of five birdies in six holes to increase her lead to double digits.  She ended her round with seven straight pars.


“I was just trying to take advantage of the holes I could, the par fives,” Gilliam said.  “I tried not to make too many mistakes on the par fours, which were a little tougher.  I was putting really well, so that helped a little bit.”


Carter, a rising sophomore at Sullivan South High School, turned in an even-par, 72 to finish runner-up at 1-under, 215.  Cunningham had a 75 on Thursday to end up third at 216.


Gilliam and Cunningham are both set to fly out to California on Friday to compete in the United States Girls’ Junior Amateur, which begins Monday at Spyglass Hills at Pebble Beach.


Angelina Chan (Franklin) was at 220 and soon-to-be University of Tennessee-Chattanooga golfer Rheagan Hall (Cleveland) 225 to round out the top five.


Franklin native Shelly Yang finished tied for sixth at 10-over, 226 to earn the Ruth Eller Trophy, which goes to the highest finishing competitor 14-years-old or younger.  Kendall Maynard of Clarksville also tied for sixth.


Isabella van der Biest (Kingsport, 229), Hannah Nall (Cleveland, 230) and Jennaly Nolan (Knoxville, 231) rounded out the top 10.


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