Dambaugh: winning SEC title was a 'surreal feeling'

Dambaugh: winning SEC title was a 'surreal feeling'

**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Allen Sharpe and Jenny Dilworth**

Katelyn Dambaugh trailed by two strokes entering the final round of the 2017 SEC Championship this past weekend. With a conference title on the line, the nerves were sure to be flowing.

Not for Dambaugh.

The senior fired a final round 66 (-6), and was able to hold on for a one-shot victory to capture the SEC championship. She was the first Gamecock to capture the conference title since Kristy McPherson went back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.

"I was comfortable out there," Dambaugh told Spurs & Feathers. "I was like, 'If it's meant to be, it will be.'"

It was surely meant to be for Dambaugh, who birdied the second and seventh hole and nearly had a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth hole. During the second round on Saturday, she drained a shot from the fairway on No. 17 and sports information director Scott Waggoner joked that she needed to let him know if she was about to do something like that again. 

"Scott was on hole eight the next day and I was like, 'Alright Scott, are you ready for it?'" Dambaugh said. "Then I hit it and was like, 'That might do it.' We watched the ball and then it lipped and went around the whole hole, and I was freaking out. I thought that was pretty cool."

When Dambaugh made the turn after nine holes at -10 for the tournament, she started thinking about the possibility of going all the way.

"After nine holes I turned at four under (for the round) and part of me was like, 'Okay, I think there might be a chance,'" Dambaugh said. 

As it turns out, Dambaugh set a new SEC tournament and school record with her final score of 204 (-12). 

Dambaugh has said in the past that she greatly enjoys Greystone Golf and Country Club, the site of the SEC Championship. While she broke the conference tournament record this season, she was also spectacular last year at the event. Her 209 (-7) then ranks as the fifth-best mark ever. 

"She got off to a good start and felt confident out there," head coach Kalen Anderson said. "Her putting was so good (last) week and those greens were so good. I think when she's rolling it well her confidence goes up. She just got in the zone and kept going with it. She never really backed down that week. It was fun to watch."

Winning the SEC tournament was something that Dambaugh has thought about for a while, and after performing so well there throughout her career, it was nice to cap things off with a title. 

"It was kind of a surreal feeling," Dambaugh said. "I was just so happy because I accomplished something I had always wanted to accomplish here."

After the fall semester, Dambaugh went to qualifying school for the LPGA, and could have ended her college career right then and there to become a professional. Ranked in the top 10 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings, she quickly could've become a star. But in reality, there was never a real possibility that she was going to leave.

"In my mind I always knew I was coming back," Dambaugh said. "I had made a commitment to this university and my team, especially coach. She's really special to me. I'm committed to her for my entire eligibility. I think this kind of proves what I did was the right decision, obviously." 

The SEC title was Dambaugh's second event victory as a Gamecock. Her first win came last year at the 2016 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional, meaning that both of her victories have come in the postseason.

Dambaugh obviously tries to win every event, but to step up when your team needs it most is a sign of a top-notch player. 

"I like the wins in the postseason, most definitely," Anderson said. "It's at the ideal time, that's for sure. I think SECs was a pretty significant and critical one for her to win. She really didn't let up."

Dambaugh and the Gamecocks, who finished in a tie for fifth as a team at the SEC championship, hope to keep that momentum when they travel to the NCAA Columbus Regional in just over a week. South Carolina will try and punch a ticket to the NCAA Championship for the eighth consecutive year. Overall, it's the Gamecocks' 19th-straight NCAA postseason berth. 

Dambaugh is particularly excited about the opportunity because her swing coach from home is from Ohio, and knows the Scarlet Course/OSU Course extremely well. Depending on how the event goes, it could also be Dambaugh's last appearance as a Gamecock before she begins her professional career. 

However, Dambaugh is confident that she and her teammates can get the job done.

"It's the most depth we've had in the lineup, and I think that's something that should give all five of us confidence," Dambaugh said. "We all are behind each other."

Play at the NCAA Columbus Regional runs from May 8-10, and the top six teams from the 18-team regional will advance to the NCAA Championship. The Gamecocks are the No. 3 seed.