LAKE ELMO, Minn. — Kiara Romero stood next to her coach, Derek Radley, on the side of the 18th green.
The freshman at Oregon just walked in a birdie putt on the final hole of her first college tournament. She had no idea where it put her on the leaderboard, but everyone else did.
It gave her a share of the lead.
Radley whispered to Romero that she had won. She threw her hands over her mouth as tears filled her eyes.
Romero was one of four who shared medalists honors Wednesday after the final round of the 2023 Annika Intercollegiate at Royal Golf Club. She, along with South Carolina’s Louise Rydqvist, Duke’s Phoebe Brinker and Florida State’s Lottie Woad all finished at 8-under 208 for the tournament, a grand start to the year at one of the deepest events in women’s college golf.
“I thought I was going to have to make an eagle on the last hole to get the win,” Romero said. “I just wanted to make birdie so I could be in the top three or something.”
However, the birdie was good enough to earn Romero, the 2023 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, a college win in her first start.
It was also the first win for Rydqvist, a junior who had a 4-foot putt for birdie on 18 to win outright, but it slid by. Nevertheless, she’s not going home empty handed, as South Carolina won the team title at 26 under, beating Oregon by three strokes and defending event champion and national champion Wake Forest by four.
Rydqvist also earned a coveted exemption into the inaugural The Annika driven by Gainbridge at Pelican taking place Nov. 6-12 at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Florida. One player from the winning team earned a spot in the field, and Gamecocks’ coach Kalen Anderson chose Rydqvist, from Sweden, for the honor.
South Carolina’s Louise Rydqvist earned an exemption to the 2023 The Annika after her team won the 2023 Annika Intercollegiate. (Photo: Ben Adelberg/The Back of the Range)
“I think I need a minute because it hasn’t sunk in yet,” Rydqvist said. “It feels absolutely incredible. I can’t wait to get down there.”
The Annika, an official LPGA event, will offer a $3.25 million purse, one of the largest outside of the majors. Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Annika Foundation.
Each of the four medalists shot 2-under 70s in the final round. Wake Forest’s Mimi Rhodes and South Carolina’s Maylis Lamoure, who were the 36-hole leaders, both missed birdie putts on the final hole to join the winners and finished at even-par 72.
For Woad, a sophomore, it’s the third win of her collegiate career. Brinker, a senior, won for the second time, including a win at the 2022 ACC Championship. She finished fourth last year at the Annika Intercollegiate and lost in a playoff at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invite in the spring.
Meanwhile, South Carolina had a lead as big as 10 shots early in the final round, but it also shrunk to as small as one on the back nine. Two-time first-team All-American Hannah Darling and freshman Vairana Heck each made pivotal birdies down the stretch, as well as Rydqvist and Lamoure, to help South Carolina pull back away.
It’s the third time South Carolina has won the Annika Intercollegiate.
“It was awesome, what a great way to start the season,” Anderson said. “We had a really great qualifier, and it’s nice to see them come out and play great golf.”
Heck shot 4-under 68 on Wednesday, which tied the low round of the day, and finished T-9. Darling finished 17th at 3 under.
Thanks to a pair of 18th-hole eagles from Briana Chacon and Minori Nagano, Oregon moved into second place past defending champ Wake Forest. Freshman Macy Pate finished T-9 at 6 under for the Demon Deacons while Carol Chacarra tied for 15th at 5 under.
Chacon, Lamoure, Rhodes and Texas freshman Farah O’Keefe finished runner-up at 7 under.