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Arkansas, Tubert stay cool for win in Vegas

Arkansas is not an easy team to freak out.

After a first-round 11-under 277 at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown Oct. 25, the Razorbacks could have let their nerves get the best of them. Instead, they plowed through the next two rounds and ended the week with a 23-shot routing that amounts to the biggest win in head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor’s nine-year tenure with the program.

Amid windy conditions at Boulder Creek Golf Club in Las Vegas during the first round, freshman Emily Tubert led the Arkansas charge by tying the NCAA 18-hole low score with a 9-under 63, essentially securing her second individual collegiate title as she took a five-shot lead. The team, meanwhile, had a 17-shot cushion.

That night, Estes-Taylor challenged her players to set another record, and the team did its first-round score one better, returning a 276 to keep a tight grasp on the top slot on the leaderboard. In unfamiliar territory, Estes-Taylor was unsure how her team would react that day, but couldn’t have been more pleased.

“We can take advantage of our strengths, which is our length and our wedges,” she explained. “We really capitalized on that on that day and I think it was just as impressive a round as that first day because with that big of a lead you don’t really know how the girls are going to respond.”

For Tubert, who followed her opening 63 with rounds of 68-74, it’s the second individual title in three starts as a freshman. As far as Estes-Taylor is concerned, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“I think she’s got the potential to really make a strong impact on college golf for women,” Estes-Taylor said. “She’s got all the tools, she’s got length, she’s got personality, she’s got heart on the golf course.”

Still fresh on the college scene, Tubert is just soaking it all in and not taking a single aspect of college life for granted.

“Every time we tee it up I always tell my coaches, I say, ‘You know this is so cool, what an awesome experience,’ ” she said.

Tubert is just one piece of the puzzle for Arkansas, which counts depth as a strength. Two other Razorbacks finished T-2 in Las Vegas, including seniors Kelli Shean and Corinna Rees.

Shean’s finish is especially impressive considering that she arrived in Las Vegas late Sunday evening before the tournament after playing seven rounds in the previous eight days in Argentina for the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship. Of the 38 college players on the ground in Argentina that week, Shean, representing South Africa, took low honors, finishing T-4 at 5-under 283.

“What Emily did was amazing, but what Kelli did was really good as well considering where she’s been and what she’s been doing,” Estes-Taylor noted.

• • •

Final-round fall: Duke was one round away Oct. 24 from repeating last year’s fall victory at the Country Club of Landfall before putting up its worst team score of the tournament and plummeting to fourth.

After winning last year’s NCAA Fall Preview at Landfall, located in Wilmington, N.C., the Blue Devils held at least a share of the lead after each of the first two rounds. They entered the final round at 1-under 575 before dropping to fourth with a 28-over 316. UCLA won the event, its first title of the fall season, with a 16-over 880.

• • •

In the zone: Leigh Whittaker got in the zone at the Palmetto Intercollegiate Oct. 25 and didn’t leave for 36 holes. A junior at College of Charleston, Whittaker shot back-to-back rounds of 5-under 67 on Day 1 of the tournament, then closed with a final-round 71 to earn her first collegiate victory. She beat second-place finisher – Coastal Carolina’s Courtney Boe – by nine shots, and her first and second rounds tied the school record for lowest 18-hole score.

The rounds of 67 tie Whittaker’s personal-best score, as she shot it twice before in her native Germany – just never in the same day. It was only the second time in her career that Whittaker had held a lead.

“I was really sure with all my clubs,” Whittaker said. “I’m always pretty sure when I make a decision I’m committed to it.”

College of Charleston finished T-5 at 25-over 889.

• • •

A look ahead . . .

What: Challenge at Onion Creek

When: Nov. 1-2

Where: Onion Creek Club, Austin, Texas

Why it’s important: Iowa State enters this event with the highest Golfweek/Sagarin ranking in the field at No. 27. The Cyclones have been on a roll this fall, scoring two runner-up finishes, but could catch some competition from No. 56 Illinois, fresh off a victory Oct. 26 at the Memphis Women’s Invitational, and No. 50 Arkansas-Little Rock, which won the MSU/Payne Stewart Memorial on Oct. 19.

• • •

Five questions with Kent State senior Martina Gavier, who finished T-2 at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown immediately after representing her native Argentina at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship.

1.) You spent last week representing your country on home soil at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship. How did that feel?

I didn’t play very well, I didn’t meet the expectations of myself…but it was such an amazing experience. My entire family was there, it was just (incredible) in spite of my playing but I will remember that week forever. I play golf not only because I love it but to share it with my family and the people I love.

2.) What was the most exciting part of that week?

The opening ceremony, when Argentina just walked in last and it was just sunny and everyone was looking at our team and we were just walking in amid our national anthem and flag and all that was really cool. That was really special.

3.) You had a quick turnaround from Argentina to Las Vegas. Did you struggle with jet-lag, exhaustion, etc.?

I had such a week of pressure, I’m back with my team, I’m back in America and I have been playing well and I said to myself, ‘I know you’re tired, it’s been four weeks of intense competition but there’s just one more, just stay focused and make it happen,’ because I’m hoping to finish the season as consistent as I have been playing. I just try to stay focused and patient because I didn’t start very well any of the three rounds, I started with bogeys and then I came back with birdies down the stretch so it was cool.

4.) You had a rough start to the final round (three bogeys in the first three holes) but regrouped at the end of the day (four birdies in the final 10 holes). What was your thought process?

I kept telling myself just be patient and my coach had a lot to do with that too, because I told (head coach Mike Morrow), I just made three bogeys. Conditions were tough, it was really windy, but he was like yeah, you can make three birdies and he had told me that the previous day when I started bogey-bogey and then I made six birdies and shot 4 under. I just kept taking it shot by shot and hitting greens and giving myself chances for birdies and eventually they were going to go in. I was putting with good speed, so it was just good patience.

5.) You have one semester of college golf left. What do you still want to accomplish at Kent State?

I would love to be All-America. Just obviously make sure I get my degree and it’s going to be tough – I’m taking 20 hours next semester to graduate. I just want to get that degree and you know, play consistent in the spring.

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