Tupelo junior pulls away from two others to land in championship flight against Chastain

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 30, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Gatorade, maker of the popular sports drink, is airing television advertisements that show actors &045; athletes in some cases &045; competing and producing beads of sweat in different flavor colors, asking the rhetorical question, &uot;Is it in you?&uot;

No need bothering with meaningless metaphors with 18-year-old Alexis Rather.

The LSU golf signee dismissed fellow junior golfers Leigh Phillips of

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Meridian and Amanda Mathis of Picayune to advance to the championship flight final against Renee Chastain Brandon of the Mississippi Women’s Golf Association State Amateur today at 10:40 a.m.

&uot;It felt like I was on auto-pilot &045; I didn’t have to think all day,&uot; said Rather, a Tupelo resident. &uot;It was just one of those things. Just grip it and rip it.&uot;

In the semifinal against Mathis, the State Am defending champ, Rather was 5-under through 10 holes and went on to handedly prevail in the match 3 and 2.

Rather never trailed in the match against Mathis, who is headed to Mississippi State in the fall, after taking holes 1 and 3 to go 2-up quickly.

&uot;I’m always disappointed when I don’t win, but Alexis played the greatest round I’ve ever seen her play or maybe even ever,&uot; said Mathis, who was off to Clarksdale to try to qualify for the Big I Insurance Tournament. &uot;She was a birdie-making machine. She was making everything everywhere. It was great.&uot;

Chastain and opponent Cissye Gallagher played some free golf to decide their semifinal match. Back on No. 1, the match’s 19th, Gallagher missed a short put for par that would have extended the match.

Chastain, who makes her third appearance in the championship match today, lost to Gallagher in the finals when the State Am was held at Deer Field.

&uot;Always a bridesmaid, never the bride,&uot; Chastain joked. &uot;I guess that has been my story.&uot;

Chastain held a 1-up advantage, after Gallagher doubled the first, when rain began to fall as each measured up birdie putts on No. 4.

Play for the championship flight matches was delayed nearly 45 minutes as a popcorn shower softened up the Beau Pre fairways and greens.

While most of the players decided to come to the clubhouse, save for one group who didn’t hear the horn that stopped play, Chastain remained on the course.

&uot;That was just my way to stay even tempo,&uot; she said. &uot;I was swinging really well and smooth. The delay scared me, and it turns out coming back, my swing was never as smooth.&uot;

Gallagher tapped in to halve No. 4 immediately after the postponement was lifted, and proceeded to bring the match all-square at the par-5 fifth when Chastain pushed a short par.

The flat stick again failed Chastain when she held a 1-up lead. At the picturesque 16th, Chastain short-armed a par putt that would have put the heat on Gallagher to stay perfect on the final two holes.

&uot;Neither one of us made a lot of putts,&uot; Chastain said. &uot;I never really felt comfortable on the greens today. It put more pressure on the rest of our game, which we didn’t pull off all the time.&uot;

The two halved 17, and played a dramatic par-5 18th into a roaring thunder and howling wind. Both Gallagher and Chastain hit drives no one could complain about.

After Chastain found the green past the flagstick with her third, Gallagher airmailed the

putting surface with her approach. A terrific chip that nestled alongside the cup from Gallagher pushed the match to an extra hole.

&uot;The wind really helped me on the chip. I though I killed it,&uot; said Gallagher, who finished second when the State Am was held at Beau Pre in 2000. &uot;I don’t get to play much golf. I love Natchez and Beau Pre &045; Mark and (assistant pro) Jeff (Trecost) and everybody here are so great. The ladies are so sweet, and nice to me. This is a wonderful event.&uot;