All-State golf: Cool head, hot tee shots key for Brinker

All-State golf: Cool head, hot tee shots key for Brinker


All-State golf: Cool head, hot tee shots key for Brinker


Tower Hill's Phoebe Brinker tees off during the DIAA State Golf Tournament at Rehoboth Beach Country Club on June 1.

Tower Hill’s Phoebe Brinker tees off during the DIAA State Golf Tournament at Rehoboth Beach Country Club on June 1.

One of the youngest players in the field took a three-stroke lead into the final round of the DIAA Golf Tournament.

That would normally lead to a sleepless night, but 14-year-old Phoebe Brinker was exactly where she wanted to be.

“It was a really cool feeling,” she said after the final round, played June 1 at Rehoboth Beach Country Club. “I felt really good for today. I was pretty relaxed.”

The Tower Hill eighth-grader put the rest of the contenders to sleep with a 1-under-par front nine, then iced the title with an even-par back nine for a six-stroke victory. She became the first girl to win the DIAA individual title in the tournament’s 43-year history, which also made her the first girl to earn The News Journal’s Golfer of the Year honor.

“That feels really good,” Brinker said. “It’s just really cool. It’s been male dominated, and it’s just cool to break that stereotype.”

Brinker smashed it with rounds of 69 and 71 to finish at 4-under-par 140. Appoquinimink sophomore Matt Pulgini was her closest pursuer, finishing second at 72-74—146.

“She just hits everything straight,” Pulgini said of Brinker. “It was so cool watching her. She played great. Every approach shot she had was within 10 feet, it felt like.”

The girls played the par-72 course at 5,280 yards, while the boys played it at 6,250 yards. The setup was fair, as Brinker, Pulgini and Charter of Wilmington’s Esther Park – the three players in the final group – appeared to hit similar clubs into most greens.

Brinker would be a threat from any set of tees. She already averages 245-250 yards with the driver, a tremendous advantage that leaves her with short shots into many greens.

“Normally, that is the strong point of my game,” she said. “I still have to work on my putting, but my driver is definitely the best.”

The Wilmington Country Club member has been playing since age 6. She learned the fundamentals from her aunt, Suzy Whaley, a former LPGA Tour pro who qualified for the PGA Tour’s Greater Hartford Open in 2003 by winning the Connecticut PGA Section championship.

She now works with Bob Kramer, director of golf instruction at Bent Creek Country Club in Lititz, Pa. A 30-year veteran who has instructed many LPGA pros – including Hall of Famer Betsy King – Kramer also said Brinker’s length is her strength.

“Long ball players are always long at a young age,” Kramer said. “They just don’t all of a sudden become long. She is long, and she’s going to get longer. And she hits it really straight.”

That’s why Kramer and Brinker are working on the less-than-full shots that will round out her arsenal. Wedge shots from 80 to 100 yards are a particular emphasis.

“She has a wonderful swinging motion, naturally,” Kramer said. “So she’s going to be learning more about how to finesse her game, hit different shots at the right times.”

At Rehoboth Beach, Brinker’s only hiccup in two days was a three-putt bogey from long range on the 16th hole of the final round. By then, the title was virtually sealed.

“That was going to happen eventually,” she said. “That would be crazy to not have any bogeys for 36 holes. But I still played really well. I kept the ball in the fairway, and I hit a lot of greens.”

Her Tower Hill teammates hit a lot of greens, too. The Hillers placed three golfers in the top five, as sophomore Danny Dougherty (73-74—147) finished third and fellow eighth-grader Jennifer Cleary (73-77—150) took fifth.

That added up to a 22-stroke victory over Caesar Rodney in the team competition, Tower Hill’s first team title. The Hillers finished fourth in 2013, third in 2014 and second last year.

“We’ve been chipping away at this for a couple of years,” coach Kathy Franklin said. “Each year inching up a little bit, and finally they pulled through. We’ve got great kids.”

Charter’s Park (72-76—148), a freshman, finished fourth. That put three girls – all with at least three years of high school golf remaining – in the top five.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Franklin, who also chairs the DIAA Golf Committee. “There is some good girls golf out there, and it’s only getting better.”

Brinker was the best, and her best is yet to come. A busy summer of AJGA, IJGT and Hurricane Junior Golf Tour tournaments await. Then the balance of power in Delaware high school golf could shift, as Phoebe and her twin brother Ty, who tied for 16th in the state tournament, transfer to Archmere this fall.

“She’s a very sweet girl, but trust me, she hates to lose,” Kramer said. “I’ve seen it. That’s why I think she’s going to be great.”

Contact Brad Myers at Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ

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