ALLENDALE, Mich. -- Samantha Smolen drew cheers from her teammates Friday after she drained a putt for birdie on the 18th hole. She smiled and raised her arms in the air in celebration.
Since the Lynn senior golfer is missing graduation this weekend, being with her teammates is the next best thing.
Smolen shot a 1-over 73 on Friday to move into sole possession of second place at the NCAA Division II women’s golf championships at The Meadows on the campus of Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. Midwestern State’s Brenna Moore is the leader with a three-stroke lead.
“Graduation is tomorrow and we’re missing it,” Smolen said.
Is it worth it?“Yeah. Definitely worth it,” said Smolen, who majored in sports management. “This is much cooler than walking across the stage and waiting for 400 people’s names to be called.”
Heading into the final day, Lynn -- winners of the past two national championships -- moved into third place (925 strokes), one stroke behind Rollins College (924) and 12 strokes behind first-place Indianapolis (913). Lynn is located in Boca Raton, Florida.
Smolen was thrilled to have her own little gallery on the 18th hole.
“Golf is such a quiet sport,” she said. “Having my teammates cheer for me like that, it’s fun. They are all great. I’d do the same for them.”
Her teammates all had strong rounds on Friday, too. Jenny Ayala shot a 2-over 74 followed by Jessica Bradley (75) and Samantha Barber (78).
“Sam’s done a tremendous job for us this year and in her career,” Lynn coach Danny Randolph said. “She’s one of the better players in the country. It’s been a joy to have her around.”
Smolen was named second-team All-America this week. It’s the third consecutive year she was named an All-American. Bradley was named the Women's Golf Coaches Association Co-National Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.
Smolen, who attended Santaluces High School and Palm Beach Virtual School in Florida, finished strong.
“I bogeyed 15 and 16. So that kinda put me down a little bit,” she said. “But birdying 17 and 18 was a confidence booster. I feel like, under pressure, I can hit some good shots.”
Smolen has played The Meadows Golf Course before and says it plays to her strengths.
“It plays a little longer,” she said. “I hit it farther than some of my playing competitors and some of the girls on my team. So instead of hitting a hybrid [club] on the par 3s, I’m hitting a 5-iron, which is kinda different. I really like the course and it’s in nice shape. Having the course be a little softer has benefitted my game because it’s easier to stick the ball closer to the hole.”
Her one regret is not having her parents, Richard and Paul Smolen, here to watch the final round.
“I wish they could be here,” she said. “I wish I could put it on my credit card and fly them out tomorrow.”