HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Clinging to a one-shot lead late Wednesday afternoon at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, South Carolina senior Mathilde Claisse pushed her tee ball into the right rough on the par-4 finishing hole at Long Cove Club.
With no groups behind her and LSU freshman Edit Hertzman, her closest competitor by three shots, in the clubhouse, Claisse sized up her shot.
An easy 5-iron. No, a hard 6. Her adrenaline was pumping.
Gamecocks head coach Kalen Anderson told her player to aim 5 meters left of the flag and set up the stress-free, winning two-putt.
“But in the corner of my mind,” Claisse admitted later, “I was like, ‘Just f--- it.’ ... I didn’t play the pin, but I played 2 meters left. Yeah, I was kinda aggressive.”
Claisse’s ball started right at the flag and barely left it, landing short and right of the hole before bounding to about 15 feet.
An easy two-putt after all.
And Claisse’s first college victory, prompting her teammates to rush the green and douse her with water while chanting, “Tilly! Tilly! Tilly!”
“It’s really hard to find the words,” Claisse said. “On my last putt on 18, I was crying. I was really trying to hold it in.”
Prior to this week, Claisse owned just one top-5 finish in college golf. So, sleeping on a two-shot lead was unfamiliar territory, at least in this arena, for the Frenchwoman. Then consider that just three shots back was LSU senior Ingrid Lindblad, who had 10 college titles to her credit, four of them in come-from-behind fashion.
Claisse caught a flier on her opening approach shot and bogeyed the first hole. But she adapted throughout the round, carding just one other bogey while posting three birdies. Her 1-under 70 was just enough to get the victory at 5 under.
“She played so steady,” Anderson said. “She was rock solid mentally. She had some nerves, but she was executing well. I was really proud of what she did.”
Lindblad, meanwhile, closed in 74 and doubled her final hole to drop to T-11. Still, the future LPGA superstar has finished outside the top 11 just three times in now 34 career college starts. She’ll be just fine.
So, too, will Claisse, though she’s planning on a different career path.
A few years ago, Claisse was one of the top recruits in the country, actually ranked higher for a portion of her junior career than countrywoman Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, who was part of the same Gamecocks recruiting class and now plays on the LPGA. But prior to arriving in Columbia, South Carolina, Claisse blew out her knee working out and had to undergo reconstructive surgery.
In her first two seasons, Claisse ranked outside the top 100 players in the country. Before her junior season, she decided that unlike any of her peers, professional golf was not going to be for her.
After this semester, Claisse, a finance major, plans to return home to Paris and begin a graduate program as she works toward a career in wealth management.
“Some people dream of playing on tour, but that’s not the life I want to have,” Claisse says. “And honestly, I haven’t played better. I don’t have any expectations afterward, and I’m just going with the vibe. I always say your golf reflects the way your mind and your personal life are, so once I made that decision, it freed me, and I started to enjoy golf more.”
She cracked the top 60 in Golfstat last season while posting two top-10s after two seasons with a combined zero. Entering this week’s event at Long Cove, she sat No. 63 in the nation individually while posting two more top-10s.
Now, while juggling several midterms, she’s finally nabbed that elusive victory.
“When we finished up, she goes, ‘I can win. I can do it,’” Anderson said. “And I told her, ‘That’s what happens when we put together a game plan. Let’s not stop here.’ This is going to give her a lot of confidence.”
Claisse’s win helped soften the sting as far as the team competition was concerned. Host South Carolina, ranked fourth in Golfstat but winless in the first 10 editions of the Darius Rucker, held a slim lead entering Wednesday’s final round before shooting 11 over and ending up four shots back of winner and SEC rival LSU.
The Tigers, ranked sixth in the country and coming off a win last week at the Moon Golf Invitational, closed in 3 over to finish 54 holes at 6 over. It was their fourth win of the season as they’ve started the spring second-win-win.
Joining Lindblad in the top 15 were LSU’s usual Nos. 4 and 5 players, sophomore transfer Aine Donegan (T-13) and Hertzman, a freshman from Sweden who was playing in just her fifth college event.
“There was an article out there that said, Some unknowns at bottom of roster,” LSU head coach Garrett Runion said. “Hopefully, these last few weeks and especially this tournament answered some of those questions.”
(This writer may or may not have written said article.)
LSU is now 2-1 against South Carolina this season.
But to close her victory speech, Claisse looked over toward the Tigers and said, "Great playing, but we'll get you next time."