MANISTIQUE - In the 86-year history of the Upper Peninsula Ladies Golf Association tournament, there have been many worthy champions. However, after a stunning victory Thursday, Avery Rochester, a 16-year-old student-athlete at Marquette Senior High School, holds a distinctive subtext that can be put alongside her name in the UPLGA history books.
She is the youngest champion in the tournament's history, besting a mark set by Marquette's Carly Saint-Onge last year. Saint-Onge, who won in 2011 as a recent Marquette High School senior, is now a scholarship athlete at Michigan State University.
The week was a mostly dominant one for Rochester, who was also the tournament medalist on Monday.
"Getting the medalist was a big boost for my confidence," said a triumphant Rochester. "It made me feel like I could compete and have a chance to win against the other ladies. It helped a lot."
She bested seasoned Polly Anderson of DePere, Wis., 4-and-3, winning with a birdie on the 15th hole.
"Avery played very well. She had four birdies," said Anderson. "It's great to see that. This tournament needs more younger players like her."
Anderson lauded the upkeep of the Indian Lake course.
"The course was in wonderful shape. It plays long," she said. "The pin placements were challenging all week, but the course was in beautiful condition. I love this course."
Shortly after her victory, Rochester was beside herself.
"I don't really know what to feel right now. I'm happy, I'm excited, it's just overwhelming," she exclaimed.
The match wasn't all a breeze for Rochester. Going into the eighth hole, she was 3-up, but Anderson stormed back to win the next three holes, putting the pair even going into the 10th hole.
"I got kind of nervous and I wasn't taking my time," Rochester said. "I had to slow down and refocus."
Rochester was able to recover, and starting on the 12th hole, she won the next four.
"I made a 20-foot putt for birdie on the last hole," Rochester said.
Anderson ran into some trouble over the last few greens.
"I was three down but won the eighth, ninth and tenth holes and got the match back to even," she said. "The momentum was in my favor but I three-putted two holes in a row. That was kind of my downfall."
Earlier in the day, Rochester defeated Cathy Shamion of Ontanagon 6-and-5 in the semifinals. Anderson clipped JoAnn Poncino of Iron Mountain 2-and-1.
"The morning round with (Poncino) went fine. I was happy with that," said Anderson. "I'm happy I made it to finals. I wish I would have played better on qualifying day (Monday), but all in all, I'm satisfied. It was a good four days of golf."
The weather held out throughout the semifinal but the course did get some rain during the final.
"It drizzled a bit at the start of the final match and it was chilly, but then it started to warm up. I took my jacket off and it was fine," Rochester said.
So with a UPLGA victory under her belt at age 16, what's next for the rising golf phenom? For starters, Rochester plans on defending her title.
"I'm going to come back next year for sure and maybe play in a few bigger tournaments downstate," she said.