Troy golfer Anna Claire Little finished tied for seventh in the USA Intercollegiate in Mobile this week.

Toughness doesn’t always come in 6-foot-3, 290-pound packages.

It doesn’t have to run a 4.3 40 or bench press 400 pounds.

Sometimes, toughness is about getting out of bed and moving forward, making the best of every day you’re given – even if you’re wondering what you did to deserve it.

Troy golfer Anna Claire Little earlier this week finished tied for seventh place in the USA Intercollegiate at the Robert Trent Jones Magnolia Grove Crossings course in Mobile.

Competing as an individual, Little opened the event with a 4-under-par 68 – the sophomore from Auburn’s first-ever under-par round. She finished at 1-under for the 54-hole tournament – leading all of her teammates.

Little can explain the improvement in her golf game. She can’t explain how she and her boyfriend walked away from a horrific car crash on Interstate 85 last month.

“We’re just really thankful to be here. We just know that there’s only one explanation to that,” Little said. “There’s so many what-ifs that you could talk about and dwell on that we’ve tried to avoid because it’s been kind of hard emotionally and mentally with all of that.”

The crash

Little had a rare Sunday off in late August and she eagerly wanted to spend it with her family.

“I went to La Grange (Ga.) to watch my 10-year-old brother play in a travel ball baseball tournament,” she said. “That’s one of the things I miss most when I’m away from home, getting to watch my little brothers play and do their things. ”

However, a deluge came and washed out that tournament. She and her boyfriend, Taylor Jones, headed back toward Auburn. Interstate 85 was wet and it was still raining, so speed was not an issue. But they crested a hill and essentially ran into a five-car accident that had happened ahead of them.

“We were just having a conversation and we came up on the hill and all these cars were stopped immediately and there was nothing we could do about it,” the golfer said.

Jones was driving, jumped on the breaks and the car slid on the wet asphalt. The left side of the car hit the back of an 18-wheeler and peeled away like a tin of sardines. The car left the pavement and slid down a hill and into a fence that finally stopped the vehicle.

“It was very scary,” Little said. “He was knocked out (temporarily) and wasn’t conscious. I remember everything. I was sore. I got a piece of glass in my finger, jammed my finger, but that was it. He had a deep laceration to his left arm.”

Later at the emergency room, an officer who was on the scene asked who cut away the sheet metal and got them out of the car.

“We were like, ‘What are you talking about? Nobody cut us out of the car,’” Little said.

The side of the car simply peeled away.

The angels

“ They did tell us that there was about a six-inch window that he could have put the car in for us to survive the accident and he did,” Little said of Jones’ reaction behind the wheel driving.

After the slide down the hill, a woman got to the car first. Little looked at her and asked, “Are you Ms. Farr?”

Shelly Farr, now-retired from Yarbrough Elementary School in Auburn, took a moment, then recognized Little.

“I actually knew her, or knew of her. She was a teacher at the elementary school I went to, but she wasn’t my teacher,” Little said. “So a familiar face in that situation is, I guess, a little comforting, if you can say that.”

The next two people on the scene were coming back from the travel ball tournament. One was a paramedic, the other a nurse.

“It’s just amazing how God works,” Little said. “In something so traumatic and scary, there’s still so many blessings that we can realize.”

Farr said Anna Claire needed to call her mother, Robyn Little. But the rain was making it tough.

“It was raining and my phone wasn’t working,” Little said. “I have an iPhone and the screen was wet. I was soaked because we got drenched at the tournament. When the accident happened I tried to type on my phone and it wouldn’t work.

“Finally, I got through to 9-1-1. She couldn’t understand me, I guess I was hysterical. But she said they were on their way. I called my mom. She’s a nurse so she kind of is a very calm person when it comes to this kind of stuff.

“She told me (later) she was glad that I was the one that called because she said if anyone else had called, not being able to hear our voice would be scarier than it actually was.”

The damage

Little and Jones were taken to the hospital and checked for internal injuries first. Amazingly, both were fine. He had some cuts to his head, but his most serious injury was the slash across his left arm – where the car hit the truck – cut his triceps in half. He has had surgery and, less than a month later, already has had the stitches removed. He is facing some physical therapy for the arm, but is otherwise fine.

Little was even luckier. She had no injuries, other than the soreness that is consistent with an accident like theirs.

“We were both wearing our seatbelt,” she said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

There were still some mental hurdles to overcome. Her mom took photos at the scene and her dad and one of her brothers got even more at the junkyard where the car was taken.

“I was seeing this stuff and it was a lot harder to see than it was in person,” she said. “I saw the picture on my phone that my mom had taken. But I hadn’t seen up close all the glass, the whole left side of the car taken off.

“I hadn’t really processed that until my dad and my brother were sending the pictures. I did get upset and pretty emotional about it because it’s hard to believe that two people walked away from that car accident.”

Anna Claire and Robyn went to Atlanta, where Jones had surgery on his arm. On the drive, a car slammed on its brakes in front of them – which happens, well, a lot in Atlanta.

“And just immediate tears, just the scariest thing,” the golfer admitted. “I have gone to some counseling, just talking with people about how they got through something like that. And I just prayed about it.

“Ever since then I’ve been pretty much good. Driving has been good.”

She’s driven past the scene of the accident several times.

“You look at it and it’s things you don’t realize. I didn’t realize how steep the hill was we slid down,” she said. “I’m thankful it was a fence. It could have been a tree. The fence stopped us and didn’t make the car even worse.

“I think it affected my boyfriend more when he saw the place. He came back and forth for his appointments. I just drove past it. He was emotional about it. It is pretty tough. We’re just so thankful.”

The golf

Immediately after the accident, Little didn’t want to leave her boyfriend. Her mom prodded her back to school.

“She was like, ‘I know you’re not going to like me for this, but I’m making this decision for you. You’re going back to school, you’re going to do two days of classes (Thursday and Friday that week) and then you can come back home, you can be with him, but then you need to go back and get back in your routine,’” Little said.

She knew her mom was right.

“I can’t let something like that hold me back to the point where I let it break me,” Little said. “I had to get my focus back.”

She had plenty of help, and credits her teammates and Troy women’s golf coach Randy Keck for their support.

“They helped me catch up on my homework, they surprised me and took me to dinner, they had flowers for me,” Little said. “They just did whatever they could to help me. So I knew I had that support system coming back. Coach was really supportive and gave me the time.”

She wasn’t allowed to touch a club for two weeks. She came back a day or two before the first tournament of the season in Mobile. She missed all the qualifying for team spots, but was just thankful she was able to play as an individual.

“I think breaks – physically and mentally – help me with my golf game,” she said. “Instead of being worried about coming back, I was excited to get to. When something that you love is taken away from me – even for just two weeks – I was just dying to come back and play and be with my team.”

She had zero expectations for Mobile. Just being there was a big win.

“I played in a couple tournaments last year and struggled a little bit,” she said. “My goal every year and every day is get better and try to prove that I can be here and play on this level. That’s what I struggled with, is not having the confidence I could do it.”

And she followed with an eye-opening seventh-place finish overall, best on the team. She talked about how great it felt playing later as an individual in her 4-under-par opening round, but still having all her teammates waiting for her on the 18th green.

“To go through what she’s had to endure and respond the way she did, was outstanding,” Keck said. “It showed that her mind is in the right place, and she was focused on what she was doing on the course. I just can’t say enough about her, she’s an awesome individual.”

Little said the finish gives her confidence going into Troy’s second event, Oct. 7 at Jacksonville State.

She admitted after her ordeal that anguishing about a double - bogey doesn’t seem all that important.

“It really does put things into perspective on pretty much everything,” Little said. “Things that I might complain about are just not as bad as other things you may go through.

“Trying to stay positive about everything has kind of kept us there. Just relying on God for the support and trying to keep our faith through something so scary has been our rock – literally.”

Follow Ken Rogers on Twitter @debamabeat.

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