Brandon golfer sinks key putts to claim top prize

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Disenchanted with how she performed on Beau Pre Country Club’s shrewd greens Wednesday, Renee Chastain raced down from her Isle of Capri hotel room to the trunk of her car to fetch her putter and several balls Thursday morning before her championship match in the 70th annual Mississippi Women’s Golf Association State Amateur.

With time to kill, she practiced on her room’s floor.

Now, who would mistake Beau Pre’s manicured Tift Eagle greens for the Isle’s berber? However, watching Chastain drain putt after putt on her way to her first-ever State Am title in three chances Thursday, maybe the practice session helped.

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&uot;(Identical twin sister) Kay was making fun of me, and I said, ‘Sure it’s got great break,’&uot; said Chastain, of Brandon. &uot;Yesterday with Cissye (Gallagher), I didn’t think I stroked the ball particularly well. This morning I worked with my hands. It paid off big time today.&uot;

Chastain stamped her entire round against 18-year-old junior golfer Alexis Rather when she sank a putt from beyond 15 feet on the treacherous par-3 16th to halve the hole and win the match 3-up.

Rather, a Tupelo High product destined for LSU this fall, defeated 2002 State Am champ Amanda Mathis Wednesday but couldn’t squeeze enough magic out of the hat to make it two junior winners in a row.

&uot;I made some great rolls. They just didn’t go in,&uot; Rather said. &uot;I played my worst round all week, and I still shot 2-over (74). I’ve got nothing to hang my head about.&uot;

After bogeying the first hole when Chastain made par, and dropping the third and seventh, Rather cut into the deficit with a monster drive at the 359-yard, par-4 ninth as her opponent’s found trouble in the spinach behind a group of pine trees.

Forced to pitch out into the fairway, Chastain walked off with a bogey to Rather’s two-putt par.

&uot;She’s a great competitor,&uot; Chastain said of Rather. &uot;All I can do is thank her for letting me win it this year because who knows the next time when someone will win another one (with her around).&uot;

As the day’s featured pair began the back nine, Rather had another shot to tighten the gap when her approach shot landed 7-feet below the hole and Chastain was off the green.

When the birdie putt left Rather’s flatstick the line had heart of the cup written all over it. It turned right at the last moment, but Rather thought her par might hold up.

Chastain answered with a demoralizing 12-footer that slipped in the left side to halve the hole and stay 2-up.

&uot;When you have a good opportunity and you let one get away, and then (Chastain) drains a par, that takes something out of you,&uot; said Rather, who was emotional afterward. &uot;On the back (nine) she made four or so 15-footers to save par. There’s not much I can do about that.&uot;

Butterflies she didn’t even know existed began to flutter in her stomach on the first tee, Rather said.

The nerves resulted in a two-putt bogey, and put her behind the eight ball from the outset.

&uot;I wanted to make sure I was aggressive and hit some good shots,&uot; Chastain said. &uot;I was trying to let (Rather) know that she was going to have to make some birdies to beat me.&uot;

It was even harder for young Rather to get a grip on the match when Chastain was dead-on with her irons.

At the par-3 13th, after Rather had come up short of the pin that was tucked over a greenside bunker, Chastain sent a high tee shot that had the gallery surrounding the putting surface clamoring for the ball to inch closer, and closer.

It finished inside of two-feet, and led to Chastain’s third birdie of the day, which put her back up by three holes with five to play.

&uot;If it was a hole-in-one I figured they’d be doing a somersault if it had gone in,&uot; said Chastain, who converted a first-ever ace just weeks ago at the Deerfield Course at Colonial Country Club. I knew it was pretty close, though.&uot;

A Rather bogey at No. 14 put Chastain dormy with four holes to play. The curly-haired blonde recovered nicely on the par-4 15th when she slipped a birdie putt in the right side.