Brittany Altomare discusses her first pro win
MANATEE -- With the pressure mounting, Brittany Altomare and her caddie, Mark Sheffield, started talking about foxes.
Specifically, Sheffield mentioned to Altomare how foxes used to reside on the 16th at Sara Bay Country Club as the duo played the hole toward the tail end of Sunday's final round in the LPGA Symetra Tour's Guardian Retirement Championship.
Altomare, a Shrewsbury, Mass., native, remarked how there are foxes in her neighborhood up north.
"Even when I'm thinking to myself, I'm thinking about so many other things," Altomare said. "Because you're out there for five hours, you cannot be thinking about golf for five hours."
And then when Altomare needed to focus, she buckled down to force a playoff that she won on the fifth hole to earn her first professional trophy.
"It's definitely a confidence booster going into the rest of the season," said Altomare, who collected $16,500 for the victory.
To get into the playoff, second-round leader Nicole Broch Larsen needed to open the door, while Altomare remained calm despite a bogey on the par-3 13th that increased Larsen's lead to three shots with five holes remaining.
That deficit shrunk when Broch Larsen double-bogeyed the par-4 15th. Altomare, playing in the group ahead, birdied that hole and got up-and-down after getting short-sided later on the back nine to keep pace.
"You're never out of it," said Altomare, who fired a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday.
After both finished with even-par 216 totals for the 54-hole tournament, they played the par-5 18th in the sudden-death playoff. And kept playing it.
They played it five times in the playoff, with each making pars until Altomare struck a gap wedge within a few feet. After Broch Larsen misfired, Altomare sank the winning putt to complete the victory.
"Brittany's just a very determined gal," Sheffield said. "And she just stays focused; she does her game and she wasn't concerned what the other gal was doing."
Altomare and Sheffield have known each for three years. That's when Altomare first arrived at the Longboat Key Club, a place Sheffield as been a member at for years.
Longboat's director of golf Terry O'Hara, who previously worked in Massachusetts, also knew Altomare for several years and it led to the latter's relocation for a couple of winters in the area.
This past year, she set up shop in Tampa to work with Old Memorial's director of instruction Justin Sheehan, which added 25 yards of distance to Altomare's game.
"She was never really long before, and now she was long enough," Sheffield said. "I texted her (Sunday) morning and said, 'You can win this.'"
Altomare's confidence started rising earlier this year when she tied for 21st at the Pure-Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic. That performance provided enough of a money boost in the early season LPGA Tour reshuffle to earn more LPGA Tour playing privileges. While she's playing the next LPGA Tour stops, Altomare said she isn't sure how long she'll be out there: Another reshuffle of status looms.
But that confidence was solidified after winning at Sara Bay against an opponent, Broch Larsen, who is ranked 72nd.
Broch Larsen finished third on the Ladies European Tour's Order of Merit last year and flexed her length in the playoff. It's why she chose to send her drives on the par-5 18th toward the 10th fairway.
"If I go there, it's a better angle to go for it in two."
However, the wind was blowing in, preventing any chance of reaching the par-5 in two.
Still, Broch Larsen continued to fire each drive toward the No. 10 fairway. And her strategy didn't change, even when finding her tee shot resting against a tree, in a fairway bunker and in the mulch area next to another tree on three occasions.
Broch Larsen, ranked No. 72 in the world and the reigning Ladies European Tour player's player of the year, recovered each time. Until Altomare finally seized her opportunity with a tight wedge shot and subsequent birdie putt.
Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017. Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill and like his Facebook page at Jason Dill Bradenton Herald.