Alex (left) and Sophie in Zagreb
University of Exeter Golfers win Bronze at European University Games
BUCS 2015/16 Tour Champions Alex Saunders and Sophie Stone travelled to Zagreb last week to represent the University of Exeter at the European Universities Golf Championships. The girls overcame extreme heat and a challenging course to clinch a bronze medal and stand alongside the Universities of Stirling and St Andrews on an all-British podium.
The European Universities Golf (EUG) Championships are the pinnacle for student golfers in Europe, and Alex and Sophie competed against 7 other universities for the women’s championship. The event was played over 72 holes on the magnificent Zagreb Golf and Country Club and brought together golfers from 6 different countries.
Alex commented: “I’ve had a great time in Zagreb, it’s such an incredible city and the atmosphere in the athlete village was something I have never experienced before. The course itself was a great test of golf and coming away with team bronze was the icing on the cake – a great end to a great week.”
Sophie commented: “The European University Games was an amazing opportunity to represent the University of Exeter in a multinational event. Despite the tough golf course and no sign of our best golf, we managed to pull through to collect a bronze medal which left us with a great sense of achievement.”
Team Manager Nic Mathers was also pleased with the result: “Coming away from the European University Games with a bronze medal really highlights the strengths of our High Performance golf programme. Sophie and Alex played some fantastic golf in parts, and if it wasn’t for some unfortunate breaks, could have really mounted a challenge against Stirling and St Andrews. The girls represented the University remarkably well, and can be very proud of their efforts on and off course. For me personally, it was a fantastic experience managing a team at such a prestigious event and hopefully I can apply this in a future leadership role."
The University has a proud golfing tradition and ranked first in the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) Golf rankings 2014/15, having amassed more BUCS points in Golf than any UK institution previously. Last year, Exeter also became the first University to enter five teams into the BUCS Golf leagues, and the club is represented across the three leagues available in the South of England.
Golf is one of Exeter’s Focus Sports and the University’s golf programme benefits from generous support from Exeter University Alumni Golf Society, a group that exists to host golf events for Exeter alumni and friends. Funds raised through this group are predominantly used to support elite student golfers such as Alex and Sophie to enable them to fulfil their sporting and academic potential.
Read Nic’s full report from the event below.
On day 1 of the competition, the girls got their European campaign off to a steady start. Beginning with the 10th tee, Saunders played in what felt very much like a BUCS event for her first two rounds, paired up against Sinead Sexton (University of Stirling) and Marie Danielson (University of St Andrews). Saunders started out as the better of the two girls, making birdies on two, four & eight. However, a three-putt bogey on the ninth - her last - resulted in a 73, +1, the best score of the week by our Exeter girls. Stone, also starting on the 10th, didn’t quite get off to such a fast start, carding five bogeys on her way out and struggling to adapt to the new greens. However, a spirited comeback on her way in, with birdies on four and nine, ensured she was still in touch with her competition as she signed for a 79, +7. The University of Exeter finished round one in third position, four shots behind St Andrews and eight behind Stirling.
The girls arrived at the course on day 2 full of confidence and ready to make a charge towards the two Scottish universities sitting at the top. The second day of the tournament was by far the most challenging, with some very difficult pin positions. Nevertheless, a day full of momentum swings started with the Exeter girls making their charge. After two birdies in just a few seconds, Saunders on the par 4 10th and Stone on the par 5 13th - however there was still to be another twist. Stone, who got off to a much cleaner start, was on her way to posting a very respectful score. After a tap-in birdie on the par 3 17th, Stone headed towards the 18th tee sitting at +2. The 18th hole, a challenging long par 4 with water surrounding the green, picked up another victim, with Stone finishing on a double bogey six, to card a 76, +2. Saunders was yet again flying around the golf course as she headed down the risk reward par five 15th, at two-over-par. Playing some very good golf tee to green, Saunders was certainly leading the charge for Team Exeter. However, a moment of misfortune occurred as she grounded her club in the hazard on 15 to pick up a two shot penalty (credit must go to Saunders for instantly owning up to her mistake). Having been out on the course for almost five hours at this point, with still four holes to play, this setback was tough to take. Saunders couldn’t quite shake it off, and finished with three bogeys in the last three holes to sign for 79 (+7). After day two, the girls found themselves in 3rd place, eight shots behind St Andrews in 2nd, and 10 shots clear of Munich in 4th.
The mood in the camp was high when the team returned to Zagreb Golf & Country Club (which is one of only two golf clubs in Croatia) for the third round of the Games, as the girls realised they had a genuine opportunity to pick up a medal. The mind-set was definitely still focused on chasing down St Andrews, however they did have one eye on Munich behind them. Saunders, recovering from a damaging blow the day before, got off to a steady start parring the first three holes. A couple of mistakes at the end of the back nine, her front nine, led to her hitting the turn with a four-over-par 40. A great birdie on the 1st was followed up by a disappointing bogey on the next. Despite playing well, Saunders struggled to get anything going and finished with a six-over-par 78. Stone, teeing off the 1st at 11:00, was paired with Munich’s top competitor, Anna-Lena Kramer. With both girls getting off to a comfortable start, it was the German golfer who had the edge, as she found herself -2 thru 4 holes. Stone, despite having birdie opportunities, found herself hanging on in there as she struggled to find her touch around the greens. The momentum between the two girls was certainly not traded by nervous mistakes but by bewildering quality that must be regarded as some of the best golf of the week. Stone fought back by making three birdies in six holes on six, nine and eleven. As the girls made their way back to the clubhouse on the 18th tee, Kramer was three shots ahead of Stone at one-under-par. Stone, who struggled on the 18th all week, yet again found trouble, this time off the tee. An unfortunate triple bogey seven, led to Stone finishing up with a five-over-par 77. St Andrews were now out of sight and the gap with Munich was now cut down to six shots going into the final day.
Paired together for the final day, Saunders and Stone had a challenge on their hands in order to hold off the ever-improving Munich for that final medal position. When Saunders dropped a shot at the par 3 2nd, taking three putts, it looked like Exeter were in for a battle. A fantastic birdie by Saunders on the 4th gathered momentum, and it looked like Exeter had rectified their shaky start. Nevertheless, after 6 holes, their lead was cut down by five shots to just one. A birdie by Stone on seven was only to be followed up by a bogey on eight and the girls were really struggling to get it going. Two steady pars on the 9th resulted in Exeter hitting the turn five-over-par and the team had regained their lead to five shots. A pulled drive off the tee by Saunders on 10 resulted in an unfortunate break and a double bogey. With Stone missing another birdie opportunity, the lead felt very slim once again. Another three-putt by Saunders on 12 resulted in the gap jumping back to just two. However, by the time Exeter stood on the 16th tee, the girls looked to have recalibrated their game. Some really solid golf by both players on three of the toughest holes of the course pushed Munich back, and it looked like the job was almost complete. Nevertheless, the rollercoaster ride continued as the Exeter pair headed towards the daunting 18th tee, Stone sitting at +3 and Saunders +5. After two good drives, the girls walked up the fairway for the very last time. As the tournament drew to an end, Stone and Saunders were left with two very challenging shots as the water loomed just short of the green. Stone, from over 200 yards, lay up short of the trouble as she finished with a bogey five to finish the tournament four-over-par at 76. Saunders, having hit a terrific tee shot, decided to take on the green. Having parachuted a 5 wood to six feet during the opening round, Saunders missed slightly to the right and into the hazard. The pressure was picking up and after finding an unfortunate lie with her drop, was really struggling to even make a six on her closing, 72nd hole. Having found the left hand rough with her fourth shot, Saunders produced a magical up and down for a round of eight-over-par, 80. This secured a bronze medal for the University of Exeter, as the team finished four shots clear of the girls from Munich. Exeter joined Stirling and St Andrews on an all-British podium, a fantastic achievement for all those involved.
Now safely back in the UK, the University of Exeter team can be very proud of this week’s achievements, having represented their country as well as the university. The team truly stood up to the challenge and delivered with flying colours.
The University of Exeter Scholarship Scheme is one of the most prestigious in the UK, helping the best student athletes reach their full potential. The scheme provides a comprehensive support package and is tailored to suit the needs of each individual athlete. Many of our graduating scholars have progressed to a professional level in their chosen sport and represented their respective countries on the global stage.
The University of Exeter has been awarded The Times/The Sunday Times Good Universities Guide 2016 Sports University of the Year following significant investment and development over the past 10 years. The University has also achieved a Global 100 ranking in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The prestigious rankings, which mean Exeter retains its position as best in the South West, take into account a wide range of factors, including student satisfaction and research excellence.
Date: 25 July 2016