All UCLA needed during the final round of the Pac-10/SEC Challenge was a little time to circle the wagons and take a breather. When that opportunity arrived in the form of a two-hour rain delay, the Bruins seized the chance to regroup, then returned to the course and put 10 shots between themselves and the field.
UCLA had led after each round of the tournament, played in a conference challenge format at Stanford (Calif.) Golf Course Nov. 5-7, but had only a one-shot advantage mid-way through the final round when play was halted because of rain.
“We just sat around a table and talked a little bit,” said junior Stephanie Kono, who earned runner-up honors with a 5-under 208. “It was a pretty good break for us because some of us were struggling but after we got in and then we just sat for a little while and we went back out and we played much better.”
UCLA finished at 4-over 856 to beat top-ranked Alabama by 11 shots. It’s the second consecutive victory for the Bruins, ranked No. 3 by Golfweek, this season, which is especially impressive considering the growing depth of the women’s game.
“There’s a lot of really good teams,” Kono said. “I feel like in the past, it was mostly the Pac-10, and so I think we came out and we were a little bit surprised and we didn’t really know what our expectations were and then we just got into the groove.”
Hitting the late-season stride seems to be a trend for UCLA, as the team put together wins at the Betsy Rawls Invitational and the Ping/ASU Invitational to end the regular season last spring. This time around, head coach Carrie Forsyth knows the confidence her team built with a win at The Landfall Tradition had a significant impact on the conference challenge.
At Landfall, UCLA had to make a charge to catch Duke on the final day. At Stanford, it was about holding it together as teams faltered all around the Bruins thanks to wet conditions.
UCLA returned much of the same lineup this season, trading senior Sydnee Michaels for freshman Ani Gulugian, who has made an immediate impact for the Bruins.
“They’re a really solid team, just all around for the most part good ball strikers, good short game,” Forsyth said. “They’re a smart team, they’re not going to make too many mistakes.”
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View from the top: The fall season is over for Alabama, and what a season it was. The Crimson Tide holds the top spot in both the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and the Golf World/NGCA Coaches’ Poll after two wins in four events played.
Alabama won the NCAA Fall Preview to open the season and also won the Tar Heel Invitational The Tide closed with a runner-up finish at the SEC/Pac-10 Challenge. In the fall season, Alabama had eight rounds under par and one round at even par, and set the single-round school record three times this season. The Crimson Tide averaged 284.25 as a team.
Individually, junior Brooke Pancake is ranked No. 3 by Golfweek, and senior Camilla Lennarth is No. 10.
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Take that, sis: Erica and Lindsey Bensch engaged in the ultimate battle of one-upmanship Nov. 9 during a round at KickingBird Golf Club in Edmond, Okla. The sisters, who play for Division II Central Oklahoma, were in back-to-back groups as both recorded a hole-in-one.
Erica, a junior, was the first to make an ace, holing a gap wedge at the 124-yard third hole. It was the first of her career, and was followed less than two hours later by freshman Lindsey’s holed 8 iron, the second ace of her career.
“I was walking up to the 10th green and had just set my bag down when I heard all this whooping and hollering and so I knew Lindsey had done it,” Erica said. “I had finally got my first hole in one to tie her and she had to go one-up me again.
“It was a really cool day for us.”
Lindsey finished at even-par 70 while Erica was at 1-under 69.
–Information from Central Oklahoma used in this report.
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Five questions with USC freshman Sophia Popov, who won the Pac-10/SEC Challenge for her first collegiate victory:
You shot your lowest score of the tournament in Round 3 despite a long weather delay. Walk me through that round.
It’s actually kind of funny because the rain, it reminded me of home (Germany). I was pretty much used to those weather conditions back home and I felt like I was at an advantage before the round and that kind of relaxed me and it just made me play my game without even thinking about the weather at all. I just felt really good out there, I’m just used to that weather.
Was there any extra pressure without Lizette Salas (who was at Duramed Futures Tour Q-School) at Stanford?
It was a challenge for us. We knew that we could play well without Lizette, we have a really great team anyway. … Just for us to see what we could do without her when she’s gone, as a team, it was a challenge probably for us. Playing without our best player, I’d say right now, is a challenge.
With one semester under your belt, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned at USC?
Probably that you have to play good golf over three or four rounds. You can’t really afford to play just scoring all over and have a good average score at the end, it’s just a little different than in Europe. The same but organized differently. I’ve learned how to also organize myself better and it sounds really weird in the sense of golf, but it’s just things go a lot smoother here. You have to always be in the moment. That’s one thing I learned from my coach as well, stay in the moment.
What’s the best thing about living in California as opposed to Germany?
The weather. I was talking about it yesterday. At home it’s really, really cold … and I think that that’s a big advantage I have here is playing around the whole year, playing through winter and in Germany you can’t play in the winter. I would have to find different methods of practicing and I think it’s just the really sunny and warm temperatures here that really give me the advantage.
Where does this rank in your career victories (which includes the 2010 International European Ladies Amateur)?
It would rank really high. It was really important for me to play well here or make sure I play well here because I think overall, the girls over here are really, really good and I know if I can play well here as well as over there it would kind of give me the – I could see a lot of better players as well. It does mean a lot to me.