Experience proved to be the deciding factor on a dreary Thursday morning at Berry Hills Country Club in South Charleston.
Mary Payne weathered slow rains and even slower greens on her way to carding a two-day score of 157 to win the 85th annual Kanawha Valley Women’s Golf Association tournament.
“It was a little tougher today,” said Payne. “With the rain, the course played long and soft. But I thought I played well for me.”
The Charleston native shot a 78 on the first day and a 79 on the second to pull away from second-place finisher Judy Hutchins.
“Some days, your swing is totally opposite of what it was the day before,” said Payne. “It’s always nice to score in the 70s in a tournament.”
Hutchins, who was paired with Payne in Wednesday’s final round, was just 10 strokes off the lead before finding some trouble.
“The ravines got me,” she said. “I know to stay left, but I was in the ravines all day and they killed me.”
The wife of an avid golfer, Payne has been playing in the KVWGA event since the mid-1990s. She won the tournament in 2013 and 1999 and was the last woman to take home the 85-year-old John Laing Trophy before Betty Jo Brandon claimed it for 10 consecutive years (2000-2009).
“I’ve probably had a lot of seconds,” said Payne with a laugh. “But I’m OK with that because Betty is a great champion.”
That humility was in abundance at the two-day event.
“We all play well together,” said Hutchins. “It’s a good group of women.”
Linda Sams, the 2010 champion, also had some troubles with the course but says the camaraderie between the golfers really helps.
“The greens were slow because of the rain and I tried to stay out of the rough,” she said. “I didn’t play well yesterday, but I came back today and I feel pretty good about my score.
“We had a great time today. When one of your fellow golfers is in trouble you feel for her and you try to cheer them up, like one of the girls did today. Then you calm down and you play and have fun.”
“I think we have a really congenial group that really enjoys each other’s company, which is a bonus because a round of golf is a long time,” said Payne. “So we’re out here together and it’s real important that you enjoy the company that you’re with and it helps you play better.”
While most of the competitors were veteran golfers who had been playing for years, the tournament also featured a few up-and-coming players.
Nicole Archer, a two-time winner on the 2014 Callaway Junior Tour and rising freshman at Charleston Catholic High School, competed in the KVWGA tournament for the first time.
“It was a learning experience. It was hard because it was raining and not the best conditions, but you have to get over it,” she said. “In middle school, you only play nine holes and in high school you play 18. So this is good practice for that and it helps me get used to playing with other girls.”
With players like Archer and Hurricane’s Olivia Hart, another regular on the junior tour, entering the field, Sams said she is optimistic about the future of the tournament.
“I think this time we got a lot more new golfers out here, which is really encouraging, and younger people,” said Sams. “So I’m excited for next year that maybe they’ll get some more new ones.”