March 8, 2022: the day then-sophomore Amelia Williams broke the JMU single-round record at the River Landing Classic.
But she didn’t know that initially.
JMU head coach Tommy Baker walked over to give Williams a hug, saying, “Congratulations, champ,” but Baker said Williams was convinced she didn’t win.
“She had no idea where she stood,” Baker said. “She was just out there whacking the golf ball.”
Williams went 72-69-70 for a 5-under-par 72 finish to propel the Dukes to first place at the 2022 River Landing Classic. Just over a year later, Williams and co. are going back to the North Carolina course they’ve had good fortunes at for a two-day tournament starting Monday.
JMU enters Monday coming off a first place finish in Oyster Shuck Match Play on Feb. 14 in Charleston, South Carolina. The Dukes entered their spring 2022 campaign after wrapping up their fall schedule in a tie for second out of 12 teams at the Charlotte Invitational on Oct. 25. Then-sophomore Kendall Turner shot 75-71-72 to finish tied for first out of 72 golfers.
Before River Landing last year, though, it wasn’t all smiles and trophies. JMU finished ninth in each of its first two tournaments to start spring 2022 — once out of 16 teams at the FAU Paradise Invitational from Feb. 7-8, then again six days later at The Show at Spanish Trail in Las Vegas. Turner placed highest for the Dukes in Vegas at T-41st. Williams trailed Turner and placed 68th overall.
“We struggled getting off to slow starts,” Baker said in January while reflecting on the fall season. “We made too many kinds of brain-dead mistakes on the golf course.” Baker said.
It was Turner and Williams who stepped up to put the Dukes back on track three weeks later at River Landing. The then-sophomores finished in the top six of all golfers. Williams claimed first and Turner finished in a four-way tie for third. Their statement scores helped the Dukes win by just one stroke, crowning JMU as the top dog out of the 14 competing teams.
“I just remember walking off the green and my whole team just coming up and giving me the biggest hugs,” Williams said. “It's kind of just the validation of all of the hard work we put in that season to finally get a win under our belt.”
Williams' performance at the River Landing Classic may be hard to replicate. Her cumulative 5-under and final-round 2-under won the individual title by two shots and Williams recorded the third-lowest 54-hole score in JMU history in the process.
Then-redshirt junior Kate Owens sang Wiliams’ praises after witnessing Williams clinch her first collegiate tournament win.
“Watching her kind of gain that confidence, get that win, and come out on top was just so exciting as someone that's older to watch, because, you know I've also been there.” Owens said in April 2022. She picked up her first tournament win at JMU on April 1, 2019, with (68,69,70) score at the Edisto Island Invitational in her debut season as a Duke.
Owens reflected back on her solo performance at the 2022 River Landing Classic with a bit of disappointment — she finished T-46th. However, the veteran took the focus off herself and deflected credit to Williams’ first place finish and JMU’s overall win.
“River Landing was awesome. That was huge for our team.” Owens said. “It's really fun to hear other teammates succeed and feel that joy and see that success and see that hard work pay off.”
JMU finished its 2022 season unable to compete as a team at the CAA tournament due to the conference’s ban following JMU’s move to the Sun Belt Conference. This year, just over a month after competing at River Landing, JMU will compete in the 2023 Sun Belt Championship in Daytona, Florida.
But first, JMU will try to repeat last year and come away with another first place finish at the 6,026-yard, par-72 River Landing River Course on Tuesday.
“We're really trying to build on what we did last year,” Baker said. “What we've tried to do this semester is really tighten the focus of the practice. Each and every day, we have them in competition where they're going against their teammates, kind of getting those butterflies in their stomach.”