Pancake finishing where she started
Bama standout ‘psyched’ to end amateur career in Franklin
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – When Brooke Pancake was 10 years old, her grandparents drove her up from Chattanooga on a Sunday afternoon to come to a week-long golf camp at Golf House Tennessee in Franklin.
“There were tears in our eyes when we left and she had tears in her eyes,” recalled Jim Eakin. “I told my wife, ‘I’m sure I’ll be back after her tomorrow.’
“But we didn’t come back until the next Sunday. When that happened, I knew golf had taken on her.”
While walking up the 18th hole this week, Pancake looked nostalgically across the lake that separates the Vanderbilt Legends Club from The Little Course, a par-3 layout that wraps around Golf House Tennessee, her golfing past, present and future coming together all in one pastoral scene.
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“Coming in you see the young ones on the par-3 course and think, ‘I was there one day,’” Pancake said.
In a dozen years or so, Pancake’s amateur golfing life has come full circle. Back where she started, she’s winding up her college career as an Alabama senior in the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship.
So far this week, she and her Crimson Tide teammates have written half a storybook finish.
The team has turned in back-to-back subpar rounds of 2 under 286 and 3 under 285 to stand at 571, 11 strokes ahead of No. 1 UCLA, North Carolina and Virginia. Pancake has led the charge, following Tuesday’s opening round 68 with a 2 under 70 on Wednesday that has her at 6 under 138, two better than Arizona State’s Giulia Molinaro.
Pancake’s teammate, sophomore Stephanie Meadow, flirted with the overall lead Wednesday but is still high up on the leaderboard, tied for sixth at 2 under 142.
“I feel I’ve put myself in a good position for the last two days,” said Pancake, who perhaps could also lead the field in understatements.
Pancake was labeled as one of the players to beat coming into the tournament: ranked No. 12 in the nation individually, an All-American as a junior and a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team which takes on Great Britain/Ireland next month in Scotland.
If anything, though, at times she’s a victim of her own success, as she emphasizes how hard she’s had to work lately on her putting.
“It’s been a struggle the last couple of months,” she said. “But I have confidence I can get up and down. I know there are more birdies out there.”
Getting up and down to save pars is something Pancake rarely has to do, according to Alabama coach Mic Potter.
“One of the hard things I think for great players is they hit it close a lot and they miss a lot, they think they're putting poorly when actually they're just kind of hitting it better than everybody else and have a lot of chances so it seems bad to them,” Potter said.
“I think that's the case with her. She's been hitting 15, 16 17 greens around and shoots around par and it's discouraging to her.''
Pancake was at ease talking to a crush of reporters after her round, describing how excited she was when she found out the NCAA championship would be coming to Tennessee and the Legends Club.
“I was psyched,” she said. “I was psyched. I couldn’t think of a better place for our team.”
It’s far different from how she felt at 10 in that first golf camp across the lake.
“I was nervous, oh my gosh,” she said. “I don’t remember too much. I just know I loved it. I love everything competitive. Golf was hard, but I thought, no matter what, I’m going to try to be the best I can at this sport.”
That even included being the best at fixing ball marks and divots on the course after a seminar she had in golf camp.
“She came home from camp and said, ‘Granddad, let me show you how to fix that divot,’” Eakin recalled with a proud smile.
“I wouldn’t trade her for anything.”
With two rounds to go and the lead in hand, neither would Alabama.