LAUREL — It was a victory a hundred years in the making.
Toting a five-stroke advantage into the third and final round of the amateur division, University of Montana sophomore golfer and two-time Class AA state champion Teigan Avery shot a 5-over-par 77 for a three-day total of 226 to hold on to the lead and triumph in the centennial Montana State Women's Golf Association tournament on a blazing, nearly windless Saturday afternoon at Laurel Golf Club.
Anna DeMars, a sophomore golfer at Montana State University Billings, also delivered a 77 to claim second place.
MSU Billings golfer Shealyn Hafer, who was fourth after Friday's second round, sunk a trio of birdies and pulled into third with a 2-over-par 74 — the best mark of the final round — to give the Yellowjackets two top-three finishers.
"It feels great to have won the 100th women's state am," said the 19-year-old Avery, a Kalispell Glacier graduate, from the 18th hole after securing the title and sharing a hug with opponents and playing partners DeMars and Kyla Clancy, who finished in a tie for sixth. "That was actually really cool that it was the 100th year. And I noticed I was the first to enter this year and was hoping that would give me some good luck."
A calm, methodical approach helped Avery preserve her lead — she pared 13 holes and bogeyed eight — despite a solid challenge from DeMars, who birdied holes eight and nine and came within two strokes of sharing the lead with Avery.
"I just knew that I had to stay in my own game and not worry about what they were doing," said Avery, whose golf career began a decade ago and whose early accomplishments included twice winning the Montana State Golf Association junior tournament and Montana Junior State Championship by the time she was 12.
"I've matured a lot as a golfer and learned that I really have to focus on my own game," she continued. "I can't worry about whether they're parring or bogeying because once you start playing to their game you start to lose."
Another strategy that she deployed was relying solely on her irons and woods and trusting that she could generate enough power down the fairways.
"I didn't use my drivers once today, and those girls (DeMars and Clancy) can really bomb it," said Avery. "I know most people would be like 'What are you doing?' but I knew that I didn't need them on this course and it paid off for me."
In the senior division, Sue Matson bounced back from a lackluster second round to shoot a round-leading 80 to surge past leader Helene Michael and capture her fourth State Am title.
Matson, who also won the Senior State Am in 2007, 2008 and 2011, finished with a three-day total of 248 and Michael concluded the tournament with a 252. Susan Court claimed third with a 253.
Shaking off the disappointing second round began on Saturday morning with self-assurance and a phone call.
"I got up this morning and said, 'You've got this in you," said Matson. "And then my son called me from Arizona and said, 'Mom, you've got this. You've got this game. Just get your mind relaxed and stay focused.'"
Her final round was split between 10 pars and 8 bogeys — and a bee sting on hole seven — and was void of the putting struggles and multiple double-bogeys that had dogged her on Friday.
"My short game was so much better," she said. "I maintained my focus. And I forced myself to breathe and relax between shots."
For Matson, who was Laurel High School's golf coach for 10 years and whose 2008 Senior State Am championship was won at Laurel Golf Club, the final day of the tournament topped with a victory felt something like a homecoming.
"I had so much support from my friends and family and the members here," said Matson. "They were all saying 'You can do this. We believe in you.' It helped so much. I just wanted to show them that I could do this and make them proud of me."
Both Avery and Matson discussed the dynamic of competing against a field of opponents with whom they've often forged close friendships, as the two of them both dished out and received encouragement from their playing partners throughout the final round.
"We play together so we're there for each other. We don't want each other to falter," said Matson. "That's not the way good golfers are. So we just keep encouraging each other."
Avery talked about the tight-knit golfing community she's part of, and the close bond she has with Clancy.
"I've been playing with Kyla (Clancy) and seeing her name on the leader board my whole career," said Avery. "Montana golf is such a small community, you get to know each other really well and I'm glad to be a part of it. It's really tight knit."