Welcome to the women’s golf episode of the Twilight Zone, where illness knocks out the nation’s top-ranked team, another top player is disqualified for a rules misunderstanding and the winning team does not have its head coach present.
Twilight Zone? Make that the Pac-10 Championship.
Things started getting crazy at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club after the first round. Top-ranked Arizona State had jumped out to a one-shot lead after an opening-round 5-under 283. That night, however, freshman Jennifer Johnson and sophomore Giulia Molinaro became sick and were unable to finish the final two rounds. ASU had to bow out of the team competition with just three players remaining on their feet, but those Sun Devils made their presence known, finishing in the top three spots. Carlota Ciganda also won her second consecutive Pac-10 title after beating teammate Juliana Murcia on the first playoff hole.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen said. “… Had we had five healthy players, who knows if we would have been able to win, but I think that the level of play of the three that were standing, to finish 1-2-3 is quite remarkable.”
With ASU no longer in the running for the title, No. 2 UCLA took the lead in Round 2 as USC also suffered a blow. Sophomore Belen Mozo – who was supposed to play with Johnson in a twosome and was instead playing with a marker – was disqualified after mistakenly playing lift, clean and place during that round. The Trojans finished the tournament in fourth.
Enter Arizona, which charged up the leaderboard during the final two rounds for its first conference title since 2002. Arizona’s performance was hardly overshadowed by those unusual events, but assistant coach Laura Myerscough was sorry to see the field reduced.
“They’re a great team, and they’re that team you want to go head to head in those final rounds,” she said of Arizona State. “You want to compete against them because they are such a good team.”
Myerscough, who is at the helm of the Arizona program as head coach Shelly Haywood attends to a private family matter, knew as soon as she looked at Tuesday’s unpleasant weather forecast that her team wasn’t out of it. Arizona huddled, then set out to be the most prepared, patient team in the field in Round 2 despite windy, wet conditions. The Wildcats moved into second place entering the final round, three shots behind UCLA.
“We looked at it as an advantage playing in worse weather,” Myerscough said.
The finishing touch came in Round 3, as Arizona turned in an even-par 288 to win by three shots. Sophomore Margarita Ramos led that charge, finishing in a five-way tie for third.
Claiming the Pac-10 title seems fitting for a team that also broke a six-year winless streak in October at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. The Wildcats ended the 2008-09 season No. 20 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, but spent this season climbing fifteen spots to the top 5.
“The girls really rallied together, and really just want to prove that they’re a great team and they’re doing it,” Myerscough said of the conference championship.
With regionals just around the corner, Ramos couldn’t be more excited to continue that climb.
“It’s great to know that we can still do it,” Ramos said. “We do need to work really hard to keep improving and everything to play against these great players.”
Next stop: Postseason.
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BUBBLE TALK: There are a lot of bubbles floating around at the Big Ten Conference Championship and the Big 12 Conference Championship. These two season finales are going to make or break a few teams.
Start in the Big 12, where Iowa State, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska are all on edge. A great week here can secure a postseason trip, and a poor week could send these teams home for the summer.
In the Big Ten, the same applies for Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
It’s going to be a tense weekend at these two championships.
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Five questions with Fresno State senior Hali Coppin, who won the Western Athletic Conference Championship by two shots.
1. You took a quadruple bogey on the fourth hole in the final round but battled back to a 73 and won the title. What went through your head after that hole?
I was actually pretty upset with myself that that happened but Coach, after I made the 8, she told me that was one of the hardest holes on the course and I knew everyone was probably going to bogey it so I probably didn’t lose as many strokes as I thought. I remember thinking to myself, ‘OK, I’m just going to be mad until I get to the shuttle cart,’ which was taking us to the next hole and then I’d forget about it and just kind of play.
2. You provide the entertainment for the rest of the team, make everybody laugh. What do you do to put everybody in a good mood for a tournament?
I don’t know, I just try to be myself and cracking jokes, lightening up the mood. My teammates say that my facial expressions are really funny when I tell jokes or do something, but that’s all I know.
3. You pick up on things pretty quickly. How has that helped both with some of your hobbies, like playing guitar, and also with golf?
I’ve noticed that whenever I take up a new hobby it comes kind of easily to me. I can just learn it if someone teaches to me. Guitar has actually been really fun, one of my friends plays guitar and she’s really good and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do it,’ but I knew that it takes quite awhile. … I just tried it out and I’m teaching myself on YouTube and it’s going good so far. I think it really helps me out on the course just being able to adapt to different things when I’m playing. Even if I haven’t been in certain situations. When I play bad I move on.
4. Your latest obsession is geo caching. What is that, and how did you get started doing it?
It’s kind of like treasure hunting and hiking. You go on this Web site, geocaching.com, and you type in your address or wherever you’re out and it will show a map of all these little boxes that are near you and it actually, it’s all around the world that there’s boxes and treasures. The fun part of it is it’s just liek going and looking for something in the boxes. … Some of them have like little toys or something you can take. If you take something, you have to put something back in. I got started with that, one of my friends just randomly told me about it one day. I remember it was last year in teh summer and I kind of remembered it when we went to our first tournament in Washington in the fall and I told my teammates about it and one of my teammates got really excited about it so we went in Washington and there was two of them at my hotel.
5. You want to join the Peace Corps. How did you decide that that’s something you’d be interested in?
At first I didn’t really know too much about it and my Dad brought it up and so I kind of did a little research and I’ve always kind of wanted to go on a mission trip or help out other people and just being able to go in a different country and being able to help other people when they really need it and I am available to do that and I’m free to do that so why not help out. I’d love to go to Africa for this. I think it will be a great experience and it will show what I can do and it will make me a better person in what I want to do for the rest of my life.
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A look ahead…
What: Big Ten Championship
When: April 23-25
Where: University Ridge Golf Course, Verona, Wis.
Why it’s important: Purdue, No. 8 in Golfweek’s rankings, is looking for its third consecutive Big Ten title, but to do it will likely have to hold off No. 12 Michigan State, which won big at the Tar Heel Invitational in October. Expect No. 19 Ohio State to also be in the picture, especially after a 14-shot win at last week’s Lady Buckeye Spring Invitational.
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What: Big 12 Championship
When: April 23-25
Where: Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, Norman, Okla.
Why it’s important: This Midwest showdown can have a big effect on which teams are extended at-large bids into regional action next month. Defending champion Oklahoma State, No. 29 in Golfweek’s rankings, looks solid entering the week, and has the added benefit of being the host team. Also keep an eye on No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 33 Texas and No. 45 Baylor, which already are looking good to get into the postseason