Jennifer Haley Gilliam never expected to be the only three-time Tennessean/Metro Parks Schooldays girls champion for 21 years.
And she often has thought about the caliber of player it would take to match her impressive accomplishment.
In her mind, Alexandra Farnsworth fits the bill.
The Schooldays tournament begins today at McCabe Golf Course, where Farnsworth, 17, will try to win her third consecutive title.
“I know what kind of hard work Alexandra puts in,” said Gilliam, 38. “I want it to be someone who is talented but also continues to work at improving her game, and I know she does that.”
Gilliam’s daughters, Savannah, 14, and Ashley, 11, took lessons from the same instructor as Farnsworth and became friends.
“My girls look up to her,” said Gilliam, who lives in Manchester. “She’s a really good role model. We’ll be cheering for her.”
The first Schooldays tournament was played in 1925.
A girls field was added in 1983. Seven girls have won the title twice, but Gilliam is the only one to win it three times (1989-91).
After playing a qualifying round of stroke play today, the low 16 boys and eight girls advance to match play for the final two days.
“The match play is what makes winning the Schooldays so difficult,” Gilliam said. “Because no matter how badly you beat your opponent on one hole it doesn’t matter. They can get a triple (bogey) and come back and beat you by one stroke on the next hole and they’re even with you. Probably the most important thing is how good your mental game is.”
Confidence is also a valuable asset, and Gilliam said hers was bolstered the year before her first win when, as a 14-year-old, she took defending champion Millette Mallard to the 18th hole in match play.
“That really did help because when I came back the next year I don’t remember being intimidated at all,” Gilliam said.
It was similar to what Farnsworth experienced in 2010. In the semifinals, she tied defending champ Samantha Gotcher before losing on the first playoff hole.