FRANKLIN, Tenn. – One tournament into the season, it’s still possible that UCLA could go undefeated this year
After much pre-season hype about a team without any weak links, the Bruins delivered a six-shot win Sunday at the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview.
Perhaps junior Tiffany Lua said it best when describing this Bruin team: “I think other schools have like a 1-, 2-, 3-punch, but I think we have a 7-punch.”
Lua was the acting leader at Vanderbilt Legends Club’s North Course, and she’s only a junior. Seniors Stephanie Kono, a 2010 Curtis Cupper, and Brianna Do, the reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Champion, were absent at the Preview since they’ll play LPGA/Futures Tour Qualifying School on Sept. 27-30.
Think about that.
Actually, head coach Carrie Forsyth would prefer not to. Like Lua, Forsyth likes to keep it light on the course and not talk about leaderboard until the final holes. It wasn’t necessary at the Preview. The Bruins led by double digits for much of the final round, but Alabama went 5 under in the final four holes to close the gap on UCLA. It was too little, too late as ’Bama finished second at 15-over 879. The Crimson Tide won this event last year.
The Mason Rudolph always has been a popular stop for UCLA in the fall. Forsyth praised new Bermudagrass greens and a lengthier setup, and thinks that with thicker rough and tighter fairways, the North Course will be “really legit” for a national championship in the spring.
After the final round, when UCLA shot 6-over 294, Forsyth compared it to golf back home in the West.
“I remember watching the PGA Tour down at Torrey Pines South – just like that,” she said. “Greens are crispy, pins are tough, and these girls, they aren’t always hitting wedges in. It was tough.”
Forsyth doesn’t place too much stock in preseason speculation, but it’s hard to argue with this performance.
“What people say you’re going to be doesn’t mean anything until you actually go perform, but I was really impressed with our qualifying scores,” Forsyth said. “The girls played great in qualifying.”
UCLA took the lead in Round 2 with a 5-under 283, combining for 16 birdies as a team. There was no golf talk at dinner Saturday night. There was no leaderboard watching during the final round.
Arizona State and Virginia tied for third at 20 over as North Carolina and Texas A&M were T-5 at 22 over. North Carolina’s Catherine O’Donnell had to withdraw after 12 holes in the final round because of an injury to her left thumb. Still, North Carolina earned its second top 5 of the season after opening with a runner-up finish at the Cougar Classic. The Tar Heels played in the final group Sunday, and only fell out of the top 3 on the leaderboard after counting a pair of double bogeys at No. 18.
“Overall I think we played well,” said head coach Jan Mann. “Obviously we had a tough time on the finishing holes.”
File Duke, which won the Preview two years ago, on the teams-to-watch list after finishing seventh. The Blue Devils climbed from T-12 to T-5 in the second round, and bounced as high as second on Sunday. Junior Lindy Duncan, who beat Alabama’s Jennifer Kirby in a one-hole playoff to win the individual title, shot 68, but the rest of the team couldn’t quite keep up.
With seven very capable players on the UCLA roster, qualifying could carry a lot of weight when the Bruins return home. Forsyth has a reward system in place for her team that’s similar to the LPGA: Score a top finish, and you get to travel again to the next tournament. No questions asked.
“I like to reward them for playing well in tournaments,” Forsyth said. “It’s the same sense you get when you’re on the LPGA tour where if you play well … you can get into the next event.”
Playing in the strongest field the Bruins likely will face until returning to Franklin for the national championship, it took a top-20 finish to solidify a spot at the Stanford/Pepsi Invitational to be played Oct. 14-16. That exempted freshman Erynne Lee (T-8), sophomore Ani Gulugian (T-16) and juniors Lua (T-5) and Lee Lopez (T-20). The No. 5 spot on the Bruin team will be a tough one to earn, but Forsyth knew that after the first round of qualifying. Lee shot under par for five of the six qualifying rounds and won by a total of eight shots to earn the No. 1 spot on the lineup.
It’s what gave Forsyth her first hint that this team was something special.