CROSSVILLE – Ashli Bunch had made the walk up the 18th fairway at Stonehenge many times in the past, but none of them were quite like the one Saturday afternoon.
The Morristown native had played in the Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open the previous ten years it had been held at the course in Fairfield Glade.
But this time, the ultimate prize was waiting on her and she knew what she had to do to claim it.
Needing a two-putt on her final hole, Bunch lagged her long putt up the tiered green to within a couple of feet and then cleaned up the par to win the 21st renewal of the state open championship.
Bunch finished with a three-day total of 213 after three straight rounds of 1-under, 71. That was one stroke better than Josee Doyon of Newton Falls, Ohio.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Bunch, who received a kiss from her husband/caddie Michael after sinking her winning putt. “It’s taken me a long time to learn how to play the course, I guess … where to hit it and, more importantly, where not to hit it.”
“This is a great venue for a state open. Stonehenge is a great golf course. The women are lucky to get to come and play here. The community is very supportive. The staff does a great job. It’s nice to see a community-supported event like this.”
Bunch turned professional in 1997 and played regularly on the LPGA Tour until giving birth to her first child, daughter Gracie, in 2005, and then son Jake in 2007.
In addition to her husband caddying the final round, Gracie toted the bag for her mom the first two rounds of the tournament and Jake even caddied on the 18th hole in the opening round.
That was particularly special for Bunch on her way to the victory.
“It’s been a great week,” she said. “My brother and sister-in-law came out. My mom came out and watched the first few days. So it’s been really fun.”
“As far as playing, I played pretty much full-time for 15 or 16 years. With a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, I really don’t have much time to play anymore. I enjoy playing a handful of events in the summer, but that’s about it.”
Bunch has actually played more LPGA events this year than she had in recent years, having played in three straight tournaments leading up to the Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open. She missed the cut in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, the Marathon Classic and the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic.
Her best finish on the LPGA Tour came in 2004 when she finished runner-up at the Office Dept Championship.
“I try to put (the Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open) on my schedule every year,” she added.
Bunch entered the final round of the state open tied for the lead, but three bogeys on the front nine left her three shots behind Doyon as the final groups headed to the back.
Bunch got back on track with birdies on Nos. 10 and 11, but a bogey on 12 left her needing to make something happen down the stretch.
That’s exactly what she did. She sank a side-winding birdie putt from 15 feet on No. 16, and then added another birdie on the next hole to move to 3-under for the tournament.
“The putt at 17 was huge, that’s a tough green to putt,” Bunch explained. “Sometimes 20 feet below that hole is easier than where my competitor had it, two or three feet pin high. My strategy there was going to be, wherever I left it, it was going to be below the hole.”
At that point she was tied with Doyon, who was 3-under for both the round and the tournament. Doyon hadn’t made a bogey all day, but the 18th hole – which she triple bogeyed the day before – was once again unkind to her.
Doyon hit her approach shot in the left rough and couldn’t get up and down to save par. That bogey left the door open for Bunch to claim the crown.
“I didn’t expect to still be in it after a poor start,” Bunch said. “I just kept grinding the last few holes and everything worked out. It feels good to come out on top one year.”
“I just couldn’t get anything going on the front nine. Just a few poor putts and couldn’t make any birdies. I guess I made the putts when it counted. I didn’t really putt great all week, but I made some important ones there at the end.”
Jessica Welch of Thomasville, Ga. was the only other player to finish the tournament under par, totaling a 1-under, 215.
University of Tennessee golfer Micheala Williams (Athens, Ala.) was the top finishing amateur at even par, 216.
Former Middle Tennessee State University standout Avery George tied with Haylee Harford of Leavittsburg, Ohio for fifth place at 1-over, 217.
Another University of Tennessee golfer, Malia Stovall of Winchester, finished alone in seventh (218). Another MTSU product, Allie Knight of Knoxville, tied Kasey Miller (Findlay, Oh.) for eighth (219).
Current MTSU sophomore Catherine Caudill was the third-highest finishing amateur behind Williams and Stovall. She carded a 4-over, 220 to tie day-one leader Melissa Siviter of Alpharetta, Ga. for 10th.
This was Bunch’s first professional win since she won in 2009 on the Canadian Women’s Tour. She received a first-place prize of $5,000 for winning the Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open.
A 1993 graduate of Morristown West High School, Bunch claimed the TSSAA high school state title as a senior. She went on to play collegiately at Furman, where she was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year in 1997.
Bunch is one of only three players to win the Tennessee Girls’ Junior Amateur championship three times, doing so in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
WEST WINS SENIOR DIVISION
Susan West of Tuscaloosa, Alabama claimed the Senior Division championship at this year’s Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open.
The seniors competed for two rounds and West ran away with the event. Her two-day total was 149 (73-76), 15 strokes better than professional Allison Finney (Bermuda Dunes).
West, who is an amateur, has qualified for the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship six times.
Nancy Harper (Crossville) and Veronica Karaman (Lake Mary) tied for third at 166, while Nashville’s Erica Chappell rounded out the top five at 167.
TENNESSEE AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP UP NEXT
The Tennessee Amateur Championship is set to be contested at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, August 6-9.
The Honors Course was ranked No 28 on Golf Digest’s rankings of the top courses in the United States for 2019.
This will be only the fourth time that the Tennessee Amateur Championship has been held at the course. The last time was in 2009, and it was won by current PGA Tour player Peter Malnati.
Follow the Tennessee Golf Association on Twitter (www.twitter.com/tngolf) for complete coverage of the event.
GOLF CAPITAL OF TENNESSEE WOMEN’S OPEN FINAL SCORING:https://www.golfgenius.com/pages/1840710
MEDIA NOTE: For photos of a particular competitor in this year’s Golf Capital of Tennessee Women’s Open, contact Darren Reese (contact information below)