Paul Valencia: Golfer was Union's ace for a day

Paul Valencia: High schools

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

Good shot, Union golfer Dani Finley thought to herself. Good, safe shot.

She needed it, too.

In her match play against Mountain View's Ahreum Yang, a three-hole lead had turned into a one-hole lead with two to play. She needed a good shot. To calm her nerves. To keep the lead. To win the match.

photoDani Finley

Only this good shot did not remain a good shot.

This one became perfect.

"I teed off to the right of the hole. I saw it hit the green," Finley said. "Then I saw it rolling closer to the hole."

That's always a good thing for a golfer.

"It was going to end up better than I thought it was at first," Finley figured. "It rolled quite a ways. I didn't think it was going to go in."

Oh, it did.

"You could hear it hit the pin," she said before the ball disappeared from view.

Hole-in-one.

Ace.

Match over.

But no loud noises.

"I didn't realize right away what had happened," said Finley, explaining that she was in too much shock to celebrate.

Yang also was quiet.

"She was kind of in shock, too. We had never been in a situation like that."

It was Finley's first hole-in-one, using a 7-iron on the 135-yard 17th hole at Tri-Mountain. She did get to enjoy it ... for a bit.

"I ran up there, and I still kind of didn't believe it had happened," Finley said. "It was really exciting to be able to pick it up out of the hole."

This happened last week during the Titan Cup, a four-team event. Nine holes of individual match play in the first round, with the winning team advancing to the finals. The event calls for a playing partner, using alternate shot, in the final nine holes.

So Finley's win over Yang helped Union to a 4-2 victory in the morning round. A few hours later, Union would need Finley to thrive again.

After all the pairings finished play, there was a tie. Union and Camas both had 1½ points, each team winning a match and one team tied. Because Finley and her teammate Karsyn Rushing had tied Elise Filuk and Maddie Miller, protocol was for that group to keep playing. Sudden death. Winning pair wins the cup for the team.

Pressure's on.

In the tiebreaker, all the other golfers who were done for the day were following this final group, hoping their team would get the trophy.

The two teams tied the 10th hole, so they moved to the 11th, a par-3. Hey, that's Finley's specialty now! How about another hole-in-one?

Nope.

Finley did hit the green, though. A long way from the hole. So Rushing got the first putt, using alternate shot rules. Finley said Rushing had the tough shot, getting that long putt close to the hole. About two feet away. Then it was Finley's turn.

"That was kind of nerve-racking, knowing everybody was watching you and counting on you," Finley said.

She buried it. For the par. The hole. The match. The trophy.

The real beauty of this story is Finley would not be the top candidate to be the star for a day on her golf team. Talented? Sure. But on Union's talented squad, she is No. 4 on the team.

This event's Ryder Cup-like format allows everybody to contribute in a different way than they typical add-up-the-strokes team match. Had Union won a match and Finley shot five strokes better than her average, yes, that would have been a neat deal for her and her team. But it would have been just another match in the regular season.

That Finley's finest moment to date as a high school golfer came in such a different event makes it truly special. The No. 4 player on the team was No. 1 on this day.

It makes for a memory of a lifetime.

A hole-in-one to win her match in the morning.

The tee shot and final putt to win the cup.

A good day turned into a perfect day for Dani Finley.