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Oh, Howe close it was

Champion had no idea she held a one-stroke lead

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LOGAN — As the foursome of leaders approached the 18th green at the Logan Golf & Country Club on Wednesday afternoon, everybody knew that Tenille Howe was on the brink of winning the Women's State Amateur.

That is, everyone except Howe.

Despite leader boards that showed exactly how the golfers in the final two groups stood, Howe consciously hadn't looked at the boards all day and didn't let her caddy/father give her any information.

So when she hit her approach shot at No. 18 directly at the pin, just clearing a bunker, and then boldly ran a birdie putt at the hole, some observers wondered why she didn't play it safer with a one-shot lead.

"I didn't even know where I stood the whole round," said Howe. "I just wanted to come out and play my game."

After her 15-foot birdie putt just lipped out, Howe tapped in for par and she was informed she had beaten defending champion Sue Nyhus by one shot in perhaps the most closely-contested Utah Women's Amateur in history.

"It feels great, really good," said the 22-year-old Howe, who will be a senior at Weber State in the fall. "It's been a long time I've been waiting for this."

Howe fired a final-round 73 to finish at 3-over-par 219, one shot ahead of Nyhus. Adrianne Gibby finished two shots back, Jessica Gardner was fourth at 222, while Lachell Poffenberger and Sally Bingham tied for fifth at 223.

The tightly-bunched group at the top of the leader board was nothing like many State Ams of the past two decades when Terry Norman or Stephanie Brockbank would sometimes win by a dozen or more shots.

This tournament was so close that with just seven holes remaining Wednesday, five golfers were tied for the lead at 5-over-par with another golfer two shots back.

Then one by one, the co-leaders began to fall.

Gibby, a junior-to-be at BYU, bogeyed No. 12 and Gardner, another BYU junior-to-be, double-bogeyed the par-5 No. 14 hole. She got a bad break when her third shot from 100 yards flew the green, onto the cart path where it rolled down a hill about 75 feet and ended up less than a foot out of bounds.

Poffenberger, a three-time champion, fell out of contention at No. 15 when she four-putted the green for a double bogey.

That left Howe and Nyhus to battle it out.

The 14th was a turning point for Howe when she missed the green left, while Nyhus hit the green. It looked like Nyhus would pick up a stroke, but Howe's chip shot from 40 feet hit the pin and dropped in for a birdie. Then Nyhus three-putted for bogey and fell two behind Howe.

However, Nyhus showed her competitiveness at the next hole by hitting a marvelous shot to within five feet for birdie to jump back into a tie with Howe, who bogeyed.

At the next hole it was Howe's turn to bounce back as she sank a 12-foot birdie putt to regain the lead for good, while Nyhus two-putted. At the par-5 17th, both women birdied as Nyhus sank a 15-foot putt to match Howe's 3-footer.

That left No. 18 with Howe leading by one shot, even if she didn't know it.

Nyhus, purposely hit short off the tee, using a 4-wood, so she could try and put some pressure on Howe by hitting to the green first. It seemed to work as she put her approach shot within 18 feet. Howe hit her tee shot left into the rough and faced a tough shot over a big bunker.

But she hit her sand wedge perfectly, clearing the bunker by about six feet and landing her ball just inside Nyhus', 15 feet away. After Nyhus ran her putt four feet past, Howe hit her putt right at the hole and despite using a lot of body english, she couldn't get it to drop. Her 12-incher was the clincher.

Nyhus said Howe's chip-in on No. 14 "won the tournament for her — no doubt that was the difference."

Howe, who has only been playing golf for five years, said she might consider turning pro next summer, perhaps after she defends her title. Nyhus believes Howe only has great things in store for her.

"She's on her way to playing great golf," said Nyhus. "This wasn't her best. She's only going to get better."

Howe and Nyhus will both play in the U.S. Women's Amateur, Aug. 7-12 in Oregon.


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