BRYAN, Texas – USC senior Lizette Salas was one of the last players to walk off the putting green on the eve of the first round of the NCAA Championship. After playing her final practice round as a Trojan, Salas said it finally was beginning to sink in that college really is almost over.
Maybe it was the speech Salas gave last week about an unlikely journey that ends this week with her becoming the first college graduate in her family and likely the first four-time All American in USC history. Salas was one of three athletes selected to speak at the USC athletic department’s graduation celebration on May 12, so she told the story of how she got into the game as a little girl. As the daughter of the head mechanic at Azusa Greens Country Club in Azusa, Calif., Salas played with clubs her dad built or cut down for her as a child, and took lessons when her dad exchanged favors with the head professional.
“It was really exciting because the audience was so into it,” Salas said, admitting that she teared up at least three times.
Salas delivered the stories with stomach twisting and knees knocking, explaining that she normally isn’t a public speaker, especially when it involves talking about herself.
“I was more nervous there than teeing it up at the national championship,” she said.
Salas will lead a top-ranked USC team that is coming off victories at the Pac-10 Championship and NCAA West Regional. She is the last link to USC national glory, as she was a member of the 2008 National Championship team.
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2.) Tip for spectators: It’s not unusual for a national championships to be won and lost at the 18th green, which is why it’s important for said green to be in a prime viewing location. To achieve that at The Traditions Club, the routing of the course has been adjusted. The entire course has been shifted two holes forward. Part of the reason for this was to create better viewing opportunities at the 18th green (formerly the second green), which is nestled next to the ninth green.
As for difficulty? The final two holes on each side are some of the most demanding, as Nos. 9 (par 4) and 18 (par 5) require length and accuracy. They punctuate challenging three-hole stretches that end both nines at Traditions.
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3.) Brains and brawn: North Dakota State sophomore Amy Anderson admits she isn’t too familiar with Bermudagrass. After two practice rounds, and in her Northern accent, Anderson just smiled Tuesday and explained that The Traditions Club has taken a little getting used to. Then she headed back to the range in the Texas heat.
“It’s a good course, it’s challenging, but it definitely rewards good players,” she said of the venue.
Anderson was one of six individuals to earn a spot in the field this week, including top-ranked Marta Silva Zamora of Georgia. It’s the first start in a national championship for Anderson, the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion, who also took home the Elite 88 Award at the NCAA Championship banquet Monday night. The award is given to the player in the field with the highest cumulative grade-point average.
Anderson has a perfect 4.0 halfway through her college career, and also is pursuing one of the more unusual career paths in the field with a major in accounting and a minor in fraud investigation. Now that finals are over for the semester, Anderson can turn her full attention to golf.
“I’m kind of nervous but excited, for sure,” Anderson said at the opportunity to compete with the best players in the country.
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4.) Ultimate litmus test: The national championship will provide the ultimate test for Tennessee junior Erica Popson, who is coming off individual titles at the SEC Championship and NCAA West Regional as she enters the national championship. Before that she won the Bryan National Collegiate and tied for medalist honors at the Rebel Intercollegiate before losing in a playoff to teammate Nathalie Mansson. Popson also hit her stride at the end of last season after battling a wrist injury through much of the rest of the season. She lost the SECs in a playoff, then finished T-14 and T-18 at regionals and nationals, respectively.
Popson, No. 5 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, maintains that the wrist injury still lingers, but she has cut down her time spent beating range balls to avoid aggravating the injury.
“I put so much time into my hand and tried to get it better that it feels so good when you know that even though you put so much time into it and you put so much time into your short game, all that stuff pays off in the end,” Popson said after regionals.
Popson, who plays with heavy tape around her wrist and thumb, said Tuesday afternoon that she felt good about the course.
“You have to hit it straight, try and avoid the bunkers around the greens,” she said.
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5.) Looking for a title defense: Purdue returns to the NCAA Championship with an identical roster from last year’s victorious run. The expectations are different, but the vibes coming in are somewhat similar to last year. For whatever that’s worth.
The Boilermakers were again bogged down with final exams leading up to regional action and qualified with a lackluster performance. Then, again like 2010, they had a solid week of practice back in West Lafayette coming into the NCAA Championship. Still, coach Devon Brouse has been around long enough to know there is no magic formula.
“That’s what you hope for – hope for a good week where spirits are high and confidence is high,” he said. “That’s sometimes a crapshoot. … You need a little luck.”
– Beth Ann Baldry contributed to this report.