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Golf: NATIONAL CHAMPS! Lambert wins title by 28 strokes
Lambert's girls golf team celebrates Friday after winning the 2021 NHSGA High School Golf National Invitational at Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, North Carolina. From left, Sharon Mun, Averi Cline, Iris Cao, Sara Im and Katherine Chang. - photo by David Roberts

PINEHURST, N.C. — Lambert's girls golf team is the best in the country. 

The Longhorns proved that in dominant fashion Friday during the third round of the 2021 NHSGA High School Golf National Invitational at Pinehurst Resort, decimating the field to win the tournament by 28 strokes. 

Lambert finished with a 27-over 891 and placed three golfers inside the top 10 individually. Sara Im surged to a fifth-place finish after carding a 3-under 69 Friday, while Iris Cao tied for sixth and finished 5-over for the tournament, and Sharon Mun shot 7-over across the three-day tournament to tie for 10th. 

Averi Cline pieced together four straight birdies in the final round and tied for 17th. 

The tournament featured state champions from across the country. 

Lambert head coach Shane Fortenberry guided the Longhorns to a 42-stroke victory last month in the Class 7A state championships, but this tournament felt different.

"It did, because you knew the magnitude of the teams you were playing against," Fortenberry said. "You've got state champions from other states to come in and compete, so when you look at it that way, you look at it and go, 'This is something that really does mean something.' It's not like it's just a title — we actually went out and beat some of the best teams in the country."

Lambert entered the tournament undefeated all season, and it showed.

The Longhorns led by 12 strokes after 18 holes, then carried a 10-stroke advantage into the final round.

Still, Lambert was determined to hold its lead until the final hole, especially with teams such as Lexington High School (S.C.) and Xavier Prep (Ariz.) lurking.

"It's a dream come true, honestly," said Mun, the team's lone senior. "We were pretty nervous coming into this tournament. We knew South Carolina had some players and Arizona had won it before, so I think we all told ourselves to just play the best we can and just push through since it's a tiring three days."

Im saved her best round for last, carding an eagle and three birdies to finish with a 69, among the lowest rounds of the tournament.

It began with a long birdie putt on a par-four hole 7.

"Before that, I had a few birdie chances I wasn't making, so I was like, 'This one has to drop, right?' Even though it was really long," Im said. "I saw it and I was like, 'Wait a minute. That has a chance to go in,' and it did."

Im's eagle came just minutes later, when her drive off the tee left her about 200 yards shy of the green. Im pulled out her 3 hybrid and reached the doorstep of the eighth-hole green.

From there, Im sent a chip shot about 15 yards into the hole.

"It wasn't an easy chip, but it was an OK chip," Im said. "I didn't tell myself I was going to make it. I was like, 'Just get it closer.' It was a good two clean holes."

Meanwhile, just one group behind Im, Cline mobilized a rally of her own.

Cline's shot from the ninth-hole tee box reached the green and left her with about a 20-foot birdie putt. Cline nailed it to mark her first birdie of the day and the first in a line of four straight.

Cline said sinking a birdie before making the turn to the back nine helped her confidence.

"It did, because I knew I had it somewhat going in the right direction at least," Cline said. "I made a good putt, then the next hole was a par five, so I knew that was a good opportunity. Then the next two, I just hit probably the best two shots I hit in the past 48 hours, so I couldn't miss them and had to take advantage of them."

Cao led the Longhorns with 11 birdies, adding three more Friday, and was in contention for low-medalist honors all tournament. 

"I mean, you just can't really think about winning," Cao said. "You just have to focus on your own process and take it one step at a time. I learned that from a lot of experience."

Lambert's success this season was years in the making, according to Cline.

"Honestly, it's just kind of unreal because I grew up with all of them playing golf when we were, like, 10," Cline said. "So, to all come to the same high school after coming from different middle schools is kind of unreal. We just got to grow up together. We knew we had a team that could win a national championship. We put in all the work that we needed to, and it just came down to performing."

Lambert will return all but one starter next season, the only exception being Mun, who will play at Emory University.

"It helps you sleep at night when you know you've got four national champions on your team coming back," Fortenberry said.

The victory caps and impressive high school career for Mun, a two-time state champion and now national champion.

"It's like home," Mun said of Lambert. "I've improved a lot at Lambert. I've had a couple different coaches, too, and I know that Fortenberry had a really big impact on who I became as a golfer. I think everything that happened throughout the four years will help me improve more when I get into college."

Lambert's girls golf team captured the 2021 NHSGA High School Golf National Invitational on Friday, winning by 28 strokes. - photo by David Roberts