Barry University sophomore Nancy Vergara, who never had won a college golf tournament, picked a great time for her first title — the 2013 Division II national championship.
Her stroke average for the year was 76.60. But this past weekend in Daytona Beach, she averaged 72.75 to become the first Barry student — male or female — to win an individual golf national title.
Vergara held her first lead in the tournament on the 72nd and final hole, when she sank a 4-foot putt for par, beating Nova Southeastern freshman Linnea Johansson by one stroke.
“Winning feels amazing,” said Vergara, a native of Caracas who shot a 3-over-par 291. “I’m very happy for my trophy.”
Vergara’s win was only one of the stunning story lines at the tournament. Nova, which had won four consecutive team titles and had led throughout, lost by three strokes to Lynn.
Barry finished third, seven shots off the lead, and the entire Bucs team was there to support Vergara as she navigated her way through the final holes.
And once it was over, there was a surprise waiting for Vergara.
“When I came outside the scorer’s tent, they threw water on me,” she said. “They poured about 10 bottles on me, which was good since it was pretty warm outside.”
Vergara, who chose to attend Barry, in part, because her father, David, lives in Miami, got an extra treat when her mother, Nancy Cortes, took a plane from Caracas to Daytona Beach to watch her play.
First-year Barry coach Shannon Sykora also was part of the support system. He walked the entire final round with Vergara, coaching her every step of the way.
Sykora said he was “not completely surprised” by Vergara’s win.
The only obstacles she had faced were injuries to her wrists — the left one last year and the right one this spring. She ultimately skipped three tournaments this spring to allow healing time.
“I told her that even if she missed time, talent never leaves you,” Sykora said. “She has experience playing big tournaments. She plays for the Venezuelan national team, and she has had good performances here when she’s been healthy.”
Before Vergara, the highest finish for a Barry women’s golfer at nationals was in 2002, when 62-year-old Judy Street finished eighth.
Vergara, more than four decades younger than Street was then, is a consistent ball-striker who can be “streaky” with her putting, according to Sykora.
Trailing by three strokes with just 13 holes to play, Vergara didn’t think she had a chance to win the title but kept putting the pressure on Johansson.
Vergara finally caught Johansson on the 16th hole, when the former made par and the latter had a bogey.
“On the last hole, Nancy had a big tree she had to avoid,” Sykora said.
Vergara did just that, landing her approach on the green while Johansson was farther back. When Vergara again made par to Johansson’s bogey, the improbable title was hers.
“Every time I thought I might win,” Vergara said, “I tried to calm myself down.”
Nova finished with three golfers in the top 10 — Johansson, Daniela Ortiz (third) and Abbey Gittings (tied for seventh). Gittings is the only senior on the team, which means the Sharks can be expected to contend for another national title next year.
Barry returns four top-20 golfers: Vergara, freshman Maria Paola Fiorio, freshman Nicky Ferre and sophomore Daniela Murray. The only senior on the roster was Taylor Babcock, who also finished in the top 20.
“We’re building,” Sykora said.
“Hopefully, we can win it all as a team and have an individual champion next year.”