2001: Auburn doesn’t hold back in Preview

by Lisa Antonucci

Auburn, Wash.

They might have been 2,000 miles from campus, but the Auburn Tigers felt right at home in Auburn, Wash., site of this year’s women’s NCAA Fall Preview Sept. 24-26. The Tigers captured their second title of the season, thanks to a tie-breaker over Texas at Washington National Golf Club. Relentless rains washed out the third round, forcing the event to be shortened to 36 holes for the second year in a row.

“I knew this was coming,” said Auburn coach Kim Evans of her team’s fast start. They also won the Topy Cup Sept. 6 in Fukushima, Japan. “We’re excited – maybe too excited, but it’s hard to hold this group back because they’ve worked so hard.”

Texas and Auburn were tied at 591 (15 over par) after completion of the second round Wednesday morning. Heavy rains forced play to be suspended Tuesday, leaving nine teams to finish the next morning. The third round then was canceled about five holes into play when rain flooded several greens. Auburn was awarded first-place honors by virtue of NCAA tie-breaking policy, which states the winner is decided by the lowest cumulative score of all five players. Auburn won 747 to 756.

Auburn, No. 2 in the Golfweek preseason rankings, is reaping the rewards of experience. The Tigers returned every player from last season and in Washington featured a seasoned team of five upperclassmen led by junior Celeste Troche (tied for fourth) and senior Courtney Swaim (tied for ninth).

“What I’m most proud of is our depth,” said Evans. “I brought five upperclassmen and all five counted, and I still left two really good players at home.”

Texas coach Susan Watkins said her team, No. 3 in the preseason rankings, was “obviously encouraged” by its strong play, but could not help but be disappointed over the weather situation. Texas actually was four shots ahead of Auburn when play was called.

“Our game plan today was to finish what we started,” said Watkins. “We wanted to continue to play with that kind of determination and heart. Obviously, the scores show that we were, because we had a four-shot lead after four holes.”

Watkins was especially happy with the play of sophomore Janice Olivencia, who finished her second round Tuesday morning with a birdie and a par to put the team into a tie for first. Also of note was the play of junior Jessica Reese, who staged her own personal comeback by shooting a second-round 69 after opening with an 80.

Jumping into the mix early in the tournament were less-likely contenders Tennessee and Ohio State. The Volunteers, No. 10 in the preseason, shot 293 and led the Buckeyes by one shot after the first round. Ohio State held the lead when play was suspended during the second round.

“This is what we’re all about,” said coach Therese Hession, whose Buckeyes actually were happy to see the rain come. “We’re a bunch of mudders and have experience in this weather. I didn’t hear one complaint from any of my players.”

Hession said this is the best team she has coached. Led by senior Natalie Aber and junior Mollie Fankhauser, the Buckeyes boast length and solid ball-striking. Hession said both elements were key on the 6,283-yard course.

In the individual race, Arizona sophomore Lorena Ochoa won her first title of the season – fifth of her college career – by three shots over Pepperdine junior Katherine Hull. Ochoa was 5 under after rounds of 71-68, and was 3 under after four holes in her third round when play was suspended.

“I have very high expectations this year,” said Ochoa, named Golfweek’s Player of the Year last season. “I wanted to win this tournament. I want to win every tournament. I want to play my best every tournament, every round.”

Add to that her fervent attempt to shoot 30 on the back side during her second round in honor of Wildcat coach Greg Allen’s 30th birthday. She was well on her way after notching birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, but an errant drive on 7 put her in the water hazard. A three-putt from 35 feet left her with a double bogey as puddles began to form on the greens.

“That’s why I’m so mad,” said Ochoa, echoing the sentiments of players and coaches who felt conditions had become unplayable several holes before the horn blew. “We should have stopped playing two holes before that. The greens were so wet we couldn’t putt.”

Ochoa said she returned home to Guadalajara, Mexico, this summer to work on her swing and has returned with more length and more consistency.

“Everything is working together,” she said.

Allen shook his head and smiled. “You can’t teach that or coach that,” he said. “It’s just something she was born with.

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