5 things: Central District title overdue for TCU

TCU sophomore Sanna Nuutinen

TCU sophomore Sanna Nuutinen

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PARRISH, Fla. – Without much warning, Angie Ravaioli-Larkin was standing in front of a packed clubhouse Tuesday, choking back tears. During the middle of an acceptance speech for TCU’s victory at the Central District Invitational, Ravaioli-Larkin suddenly was at a loss for words as she spoke about overcoming adversity. There’s no better word than that for TCU’s 13th-place finish last week at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic.

Ravaioli-Larkin’s players lined up behind her silently as she spoke. For a talented TCU team that didn’t play up to its potential in the fall, a corner has been turned.

“We were waiting just for this,” senior Brooke Beeler explained after the round. Waiting for “this,” as in a team victory, but also waiting for this tournament specifically.

TCU is a veteran of the Michigan State-hosted event at River Wildnerness Club. The course agrees with Beeler, who was 12th with a 3-over 219.

“I think it agreed with all of us today,” she said.

TCU trailed Oklahoma by two shots entering Tuesday’s final round. They bounced in and out of the lead during the back nine, eventually coming in with an 8-over 296 to finish at 18-over 882 for the tournament, a single shot ahead of Oklahoma. Ravaioli-Larkin decided not to look at live scoring throughout the day, so winning came as something of a surprise.

“I talked to them about staying patient and just letting it come,” Ravaioli-Larkin said. “We came back this week, and we had some pretty hardcore qualifying and hardcore practice.”

TCU, ranked No. 44 by Golfweek, garnered preseason attention by adding freshman Alex Bonetti to its roster, a Parisian who won the 2010 British Girls Amateur. Sanna Nuutinen, last year’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year, and seniors Beeler and Rachel Raastad made up a core of experienced returners. The best finish of a somewhat lackluster fall was a runner-up at the Dick McGuire Invitational.

“Maybe it was trying too hard,” Ravaioli-Larkin said. “It wasn’t for lack of trying.”

2. Sneaky good: A rapidly changing leaderboard is no concern for Oklahoma. Last time the Sooners found themselves in that situation at the end of a tournament, at the Golfweek Conference Challenge, they came up with three birdies in the final two holes to win the team title.

Oklahoma needed one more birdie to pull the same trick at the Central District but still finished among good company. The No. 37 Sooners were sandwiched among top-10 teams Vanderbilt and LSU. Sophomore Chirapat Jao-Javanil won the individual title, the second of her career, by two shots.

Despite these details, head coach Veronique Drouin still laughs a little bit at the suggestion of being sneaky.

“Down the stretch, the girls are solid,” she said “They don’t know what’s going on – I don’t tell them and no one asks. I go with whatever they can do and they make putts, that’s why we pick up a lot of shots.”

3. Home away from home: One of the more notable performances at River Wilderness belongs to tournament host Michigan State, a team that got slightly lost in the eleventh-hour shuffle Tuesday. A fifth-place finish at the Central District, five shots behind TCU, marks the Spartans’ third top 5 of the season.

Michigan State was at 13-over 589 after the first two rounds, and went 10 over in the final round. The team spent much of the afternoon shifting between the No. 2 and 3 position on the leaderboard with sophomore Christine Meier in the lead. She finished T-6 at 2-over 218. Junior Carolina Powers, Michigan State’s reliable low scorer, was 15th at 4-over 221 and sophomore Allyssa Ferrell was one behind her.

4. Fat Tuesday for LSU: It seems appropriate that LSU shot the lowest final-round score on Tuesday, a 5-over 291. And in keeping with Louisiana tradition, Mardi Gras beads were passed out around the Tigers’ table during lunch.

LSU, the highest-ranked team in the field, entered the Central District off a win at last week’s Lady Puerto Rico Classic. It was their third title of the season.

Sophomore Tessa Teachman was runner-up to Oklahoma’s Jao-Javanil, while sophomore Austin Ernst and freshman Madelene Sagstrom were T-16 at 6 over. Ernst, the defending NCAA champion, won the first title of her career at last year’s Central District.

5. Key member missing: North Carolina was noticeably absent from the top-scoring teams, falling to eighth on the leaderboard during the final round. The Tar Heels are missing a key member of their squad in senior Catherine O’Donnell, who had thumb surgery during the off-season.

The Central District is only the second time the Tar Heels, No. 8, have finished outside the top 5 this season. They also finished eighth at the Landfall Tradition to end the fall. O’Donnell was absent from the lineup during that tournament, also.

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