FRANKLIN, Tenn. – The Mason Rudolph Fall Preview contains every team in Golfweek’s preseason top 10 rankings. Here are five things to take away from the opening round at the Vanderbilt Legends Club:
1.) A story of perseverance: Until USC reached the final two holes, there was precious little red on the Trojans’ scorecards. Head coach Andrea Gaston explained there just weren’t too many birdies available on the lengthened, wet North Course.
USC counted five birdies at Nos. 17 and 18 to finish at 6-over 294 and overtake Arizona State by a shot. UCLA, Alabama and Vanderbilt are tied for third at 8 over.
“They persevered all day because the conditions were not easy, and then they finished strong,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said.
Sophia Popov led the Trojans with an even-par 72 that left her tied for second individually, adding birdies at Nos. 17 and 18. It was the same end-of-the-round story for Lisa McCloskey. Inah Park birdied 18 to finish at 2 over, and earned the scrambler of the day award after hitting only seven greens.
“It was very wet conditions, so not a lot of roll, and there were a lot of fairways woods to greens on those par 4s,” Gaston said.
2.) Peace of mind: Arizona State’s Justine Lee emerged from a crowd of seven players at even par to take the solo individual lead at 1-under 71. After nine pars to start her round, Lee birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 16 coming in.
“I was just patient, and I just waited for the opportunity and took them when they came,” said Lee, a soft-spoken sophomore from Sydney, Australia.
Lee joined the Arizona State roster midway through last season, and didn’t have the luxury of getting a peek at the NCAA Championship venue in the fall. It’s an opportunity she’s glad to have this year, along with a more calm way of life in Tempe.
“I feel more settled this semester,” she said. “Last semester was a bit crazy, especially because Arizona State lost a couple players and we played I think twice the amount of other teams.”
Another calming factor? The Sun Devils began the day with a breakfast viewing of the Solheim Cup, where alumnae Azahara Munoz and Anna Nordqvist are competing for the European team. The question is, does Lee cheer for the U.S. or for the Sun Devils?
That’s an easy one.
“Sun Devils,” she said with a big smile.
3.) Building a team: Here’s a question Carrie Forsyth is bound to hear more than a few times this year: “Hey, Coach, how’d you arrive at that roster?” That’s the problem with having the kind of depth UCLA is boasting this season.
The Bruins showed up at the Legends Club without Stephanie Kono and Brianna Do this week, but only because the two seniors will be playing the second stage of LPGA/Futures Tour Qualifying School on Sept. 27-30 in Venice, Fla.
The UCLA roster was bookended by freshmen Erynne Lee and Kyle Roig, with familiar faces Tiffany Lua, Lee Lopez and Ani Gulugian in between. Lee scored the No. 1 position after winning qualifying by eight shots. She shot under par for five of six qualifying rounds, and is T-9 at the Preview after a 1-over 73.
The Bruins are right at home at the North Course since the Mason Rudolph Championship makes the competition schedule every year.
“I’ve thought for a long time this would be a great venue for the national championship,” Forsyth said.
4.) Finally, an advantage: The Mason Rudolph record books don’t show much of an advantage for the home team. But after North Course greens were changed from bentgrass to Bermudagrass this summer, Vanderbilt head coach Greg Allen thinks that story might have changed.
“You have to play a few rounds on them to realize that you have to hit a different shot than years past,” Allen said. “Years past, you could almost throw darts at some of these hole locations, and you can’t do that now.”
LSU shot 21 under to win last year’s Mason Rudolph, but don’t expect scores to go that far in the red at the Preview, where the course is playing close to 200 yards longer than at last year’s Mason Rudolph.
“With the changes that we’ve done … and how much rain we got in the past three days, it really played so tough today,” said Vanderbilt senior Marina Alex, who shot 75. “It’s completely reversed itself from the past couples years to now, and it’s a good thing.”
5.) Quick look at the leaderboard: Not only did a more difficult North Course limit one player to a score under par, but it allowed for little separation on the team leaderboard. After the first round, the top seven teams are within six shots of one another, and only 21 shots separate leader USC from Purdue at the bottom of the 18-team field.