STILLWATER, OK (May 19,2018) – A day and a half into the NCAA Women’s Championship, only one program has managed to get its team score into the red. There are many things about Karsten Creek that contribute to that, chief among them a tight layout and thick rough.
UCLA has a five-shot lead on Alabama after a 9-under 279. All four of UCLA’s counting scores were under par, which allowed the Bruins to shave 15 shots off their first-round score, climb two positions on the leaderboard and get to 3 under for the tournament.
Every Bruin improved on Saturday, but that meant the most, perhaps, to junior Bethany Wu. Her 1-under 71 was her first round under par since March 5. There was relief on her face talking about it.
“Just getting comfortable with my swing has really helped me this week because lately I haven’t been hitting it well and I just kind of figured it out last week,” she said. “Now everything is clicking and the hard work is paying off.”
Much has been made about UCLA missing this championship last year. Wu, the old lady on this team despite being just a junior, said the Bruins can’t help but notice that storyline.
“We tried to forget it… but I really believe in this team,” she said. “Everyone is playing well right now, we’re all playing well at the right time."
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Thanks to the AJGA's Ping Invitational, Karsten Creek is familiar territory to many of this week's competitors. The course hosted the event from 2006-16.
For USC sophomore Allisen Corpuz, short-term memory in Stillwater was a good thing. She struggled here as a junior golfer, but chalk it up to personal growth that she’s 2 over through 36 holes this week and USC’s leading scorer. The Trojans are third at 13 under, comfortable but still 11 shots removed from second-place Alabama.
“Coming in, she had said there were a lot of holes that just didn’t fit her eye,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said. “You’re always going to have holes that suit you and holes that don’t. There’s also golf courses, and if you go into it with that feeling, it can really impact your approach.”
Corpuz bogeyed three of her final four holes in the first round. She was even on those holes in Round 2.
Head coach Andrea Gaston, whose USC contract was recently renewed through the 2022 season, has gained new perspective from a very young squad this season. Except for Corpuz, everyone competing at Karsten is a freshman.
“Not one of them has been to an NCAA. This is their first,” she said. “We’ve been consistent, we don’t get too excited about anything, we try to have fun together and that’s what we’re doing. We just try to keep things as light as possible.”
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When you qualify for the NCAA Championship as an individual, it can be a quiet week. There’s no team to rally around you. On the other hand, there are no teammates to keep your coach running from one side of the course to the other. It creates a situation much like the player-caddie relationship in professional golf. It’s a trial run for Georgia junior Jillian Hollis.
Hollis is playing her last tournament as a Bulldog this week. She was attracted to Georgia in the first place because head coach Josh Brewer told her he wanted players who were aiming for careers on the LPGA. Hollis has full Symetra Tour status after reaching the final stage of LPGA Q-School this fall. She also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open for next week, where Brewer will be her caddie.
Brewer has been close at her side the past two rounds as Hollis posted rounds of 69-74 to put her near the top of the leaderboard. It has been a welcome change, and allowed her the opportunity to bounce yardage numbers, wind direction, strategy and even dinner options off her coach.
“I really haven’t had him walk with me all year,” Hollis said.
She hasn’t needed him. Hollis led the team with a 70.64 scoring average. She won twice and finished in the top 10 every time she competed this season.
Next to Hollis, Texas A&M individual Maddie Szeryk (73-70) and Houston individual Leonie Harm (71-74) also left themselves in the conversation for the NCAA title. BYU individual Rose Huang has posted rounds of 70-75, plus her third-round 74 is already on the books because BYU athletes’ religion prevents them from competing on Sundays. She remains in that individual-title conversation, too.
Szeryk, a senior, shaved three shots from the first to the second round, thanks in large part to navigating the greens a little better. Szeryk called in head coach Trelle McCombs occasionally on Saturday, but found that she was more used to playing on her own. Sometimes there can be too many voices in your head.
“She hasn’t had me all year, so for her game she has matured enough to make her own decisions,” McCombs said. “She didn’t play horrible yesterday, but I think I was more of a hindrance.”
McCombs said that was especially the case on the greens, where Szeryk traditionally is a strong putter. Short game, particularly shots around the green, has been a huge growth area for Szeryk.
“Yesterday my speed was a little off but really got that dialed in today and was driving it really well,” she said.
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After a seven-win season, including the SEC Championship and an NCAA Regional, Arkansas’ position on the leaderboard is perhaps the biggest shock of this national championship. The Razorbacks are 32 over as a team. They at least staunched the bleeding in Round 2, shaving eight shots from their team score.
Two Arkansas players posted rounds in the 80s to open the event, including player-of-the-year candidate Maria Fassi.
“We got off to a little bit of a rough start,” head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said after the first round. “This is a championship golf course that demands precision, that demands patience. If you get it out of position the goal is to not make two mistakes in a row and we did that a couple of times today. We didn’t have our best stuff today, but this is a long week and we are in a fine position to accomplish our goals.”