Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The more the national championship unfolds, the more favorable the Arkansas advantage looks. Blessings Golf Club is a lot to take in, and as scores get lower, the learning curve is obvious. It’s just hard to compete with the team that’s been studying for two years.
Arkansas head coach Shauna Taylor wants her team to simply win the day. That’s a demand in itself. Blessings isn’t exactly a course that lulls you to sleep with familiarity, no matter how many times you’ve played it.
“We know that you have to be sharp and we know you have to be focused, we know you have to be intentional,” she said. “We really try to focus on the process of hitting good shots, looking at the golf course setup the night before and looking at the hole locations and getting a game plan with the wind direction. . .. We are going to make mistakes, but it’s how you recover from those mistakes out here.”
After severe weather wiped out play for the duration of Saturday afternoon, the championship committee made the decision to shorten stroke play to 54 holes. It’s the second time in five years that’s happened. That makes the Arkansas advantage a little better. It’s one less day for familiarity to set in among Razorback chasers.
Taylor thinks green complexes are the hardest thing for visitors to adapt to at Blessings. Still, there are getable birdies. Eleven holes come to mind when Taylor starts thinking about approach shots you can hit with a wedge.
A level head also goes a long way.
"Just not panicking," Taylor said of where Arkansas has played to its strengths. "It’s hard, it’s hard for everybody You’re going to make some bogeys.”
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A TURNAROUND AND A DAY OFF:
Duke has this stroke-play thing down. The Blue Devils have won six of these things, just not since the match-play format was introduced. Remarkably, Duke has never even been the No. 1 seed in the match-play era.
Two rounds in, Duke seems to have adapted best at Blessings. The Blue Devils shaved 24 strokes from the first round to the second round. Two Duke players played a combined three holes on Sunday before getting to log some practice and take a pseudo off-day.
Duke now has a nine-shot cushion on USC, and it begs the question…how much ground can a team legitimately make up over 18 more holes? That question applies to teams in the hunt for a top-8 position, too. That would get them on the match-play bracket.
Credit the Blue Devils for finding something over the course of Round 2. Brooks picked his players’ brains, and thinks minor adjustments to the course added up to a big difference.
“You move the tees up to the front of the tee box instead of the back and you set the pin on certain holes a little more forgiving and you can change the scoring completely,” Brooks said. “I think that’s what we’ve seen here.”
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SHE JUST DOES THIS:
When Sierra Brooks goes low, she goes low. Earlier this season, the Florida junior won the Cougar Classic off rounds of 65-62 (the event was shortened as Hurricane Florence approached). A 6-under 67 at Blessings might as well be a 62.
“I’m really pleased with the way I’ve been playing and my course management has been good,” Brooks said. “I’m not hitting exactly the way that I would like but I know where my misses are, I’ve been able to take advantage of the opportunities I’ve had.”
Last month, Brooks played in the next-to-last pairing at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She ultimately finished T-10 at that event.
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The scoring average fell from 79.93 in Round 1 to 76.23 in Round 2. . . . How far down the leaderboard should we look in considering how the match-play bracket might shake out? The teams in the Nos. 8-15 spots are within 12 shots of each other. All could legitimately contend.
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship
24 teams and 12 individuals not on a qualifying
team make up the field for the championship of
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information