In Delaware golf, the women are taking over. Well, the young women are.
On Wednesday, eighth-grader Phoebe Brinker became the first female to win the Delaware high school golf championship in its 43-year history, and she and teammate Jennifer Cleary helped Tower Hill win the team title by 22 shots. Brinker, who won by six shots over second-place finisher Matt Pulgini, a recent medalist at U.S. Open local qualifying in Hellertown, Pa., was one of three girls to finish in the top five at the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association golf championship at Rehoboth Beach CC.
“That feels really good,” Brinker told The News-Journal after posting a two-day total of 4-under-par 140. “It’s just really cool. I feel like maybe it’s just male-dominated, and it’s just cool to break that stereotype.”
Of course, Brinker and her distaff friends had a little help. Though they competed on equal terms with the boys, they were not playing from the same tees. The girls played the par-72 course at 5,280 yards, while the boys played it at 6,250. The idea, seen in other states where females and males compete in the same event, was to play the yardage at 85 percent of the boys’ length while keeping similar hazards in play, said Kevin Charles, executive director of the DIAA.
“We’ve never had anything like three girls in the top five before,” Charles told Golf Digest. “You can wonder if we created too much of an advantage for them, but this was no fluke. They played great. They were the real deal, right down the middle all day long. They would have competed if they would have played from the same tees.
“We usually give out an additional gold medal for the girl who finishes with the lowest score, and there have been times when we weren’t sure we were going to have one make the cut. My hope is we get enough interest to have a separate girls tournament.”
Delaware is one of very few states to not conduct separate championships for girls and boys (Alaska, Maine and West Virginia are others).
The win was the first for Tower Hill, who also had the second place finisher Danny Dougherty, in addition to Brinker and Cleary.
“We’ve been chipping away at this for a couple of years,” Tower Hill coach Kathy Franklin told the News-Journal. “Each year inching up a little bit, and finally they pulled through. We’ve got great kids.
“They’re pretty much tournament-tested. They play all summer. They worked hard all spring for this. They are out on the practice range and the putting green. One of the girls was here yesterday at least an hour after the last player finished. And then the two girls came back later on and putted all evening.”
Brinker’s win is reminiscent of the performance of Suzy Whaley, who became the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event when she played in the 2003 Greater Hartford Open. Whaley qualified by winning the 2002 Connecticut PGA section championship from tees that were 699 yards shorter than her male counterparts. Ironically, Brinker is Whaley's niece.
The DIAA's Charles thinks Brinker's win was not a fluke, and he thinks she might just be getting started.
“I’ve got three granddaughters and at breakfast this morning I showed them what happened, and they were pumped about it,” he said. "I hope it spurs interest in girls golf. I think this could be good for the growth of the game.”