ATHENS, Ga. – Standing on the first hole with Alabama during Monday’s practice round for the NCAA Women’s Championship was a lesson in accuracy.
The Crimson Tide’s tee shots came loudly and in quick succession, and landed in a tight group across the middle of the fairway. Head coach Mic Potter had his players on a brisk pace around the University of Georgia Golf Course as the sun burned off a morning haze and dried out damp greens.
Alabama is aiming for national title No. 2 this week, season victory No. 8 and consecutive victory No. 6. Potter says the latter two stats are more relevant than the first. Last year is last year.
“That really has nothing to do with what we may or may not do this year, other than that if you store those positive experiences . . . it’s definitely something to build on,” Potter said. “I think the main thing in golf is you always attend to the shot at hand, do the best you can with it and do that all day long.”
Senior Jennifer Kirby, and juniors Stephanie Meadow and Hannah Collier return from Alabama’s 2012 national-championship team. This year the team added freshman Emma Talley and sophomore Daniela Lendl.
Meadow is one of the hottest player in women’s college golf right now after winning the SEC individual title followed by an NCAA East Regional medal. On the West Coast, Annie Park owns a Pac-12 title and a West Regional victory. That, in a nutshell, is the 2013 Player of the Year race.
Meadow, who works with Potter on her swing, has begun work with Vision54 coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott. Potter views that work as a big reason for recent success.
“She’s the best at treating each shot equally, playing it for what it’s worth and going on to the next one,” he said. “She’s the best at storing positive memories and getting rid of the negative ones. All those little things that add up to low scores.”
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2. GOOD OMENS: The word of the weekend for Arizona State was “history.” Two of head coach Melissa Luellen’s former players won maiden titles on professional tours as the current band of Sun Devils traveled to a 22nd consecutive national championship.
Giulia Molinaro, who last year finished T-8 at the national championship, shot a final-round 65 to win the Symetra Tour’s Friends of Mission Charity Classic. Meanwhile, Jennifer Johnson, who played one year for Luellen before turning professional, shot another Sunday 65 to win the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. Alumnae Anna Nordqvist and Azahara Munoz also finished in the top 15 at Mobile Bay.
Luellen didn’t see the results until the team had finished its practice round.
“Anna was playing great, Aza had a good tournament and then all of a sudden we found out that J.J. shoots 65 and wins,” she said. “It was cool.”
Talk about a confidence boost, as if Arizona State needed it. The Sun Devils are an institution in the NCAA postseason.
The Sun Devils finished fifth at the NCAA Central Regional before returning west. Faster (more familiar) greens greeted Arizona State on the University of Georgia Course on Monday.
“I think most of the West Coast, we play a lot of fast greens so I think it’s to our liking.”
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3. FIRST-TIMERS: A maiden national-championship berth is a fitting end to Mississippi State’s season. As head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said, the Bulldogs beat the teams they needed to beat, garnered invaluable experience and in Athens, are enjoying their dessert.
“Our evil plan is coming together,” Brown-Lemm said with mock viciousness.
The national championship marks Mississippi State’s most “exceptional” field this season, but don’t discount a third-place finish at the NCAA Central Regional and T-5 finish at the SEC Championship. Mississippi State drew a final-round pairing with Alabama at the latter tournament, and only struggled over the final six holes.
“You can’t buy that kind of pairing,” Brown-Lemm said. “You can’t buy that kind of experience.”
The Bulldogs enter the national championship with four top-5 finishes this season. Brown-Lemm attributes this team’s success to hitting more fairways, hitting more greens and lowering putting averages. Her players set out this season to annihilate every program record.
“It’s been an underlying mission for them to attain more than seasons prior,” Brown-Lemm said.
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4. COURSE NOTES: The University of Georgia Golf Course this year hosts the NCAA Women’s Championship for the fourth time and the first time since 1993, when the home team finished fourth.
This year, Georgia’s chances ride only on senior Emilie Burger’s shoulders, the fourth consecutive individual to represent the Bulldogs at the national championship. They’re strong shoulders, as Burger has won twice already this year and is ranked No. 16 by Golfweek.
Georgia head coach Josh Brewer calls the course one that favors ball-strikers. It will play to 6,372 yards this week, and Brewer doesn’t expect the greens to roll much faster than 10 on the Stimpmeter, the same as they run when the Web.com Tour annually comes to town for the Stadion Athens Classic.
As for Brewer’s local scouting report, the championship could come down to Nos. 17 and 18, both par 5s.
“Someone realistically could be two or three behind and end up winning the championship,” he said.
No. 18 shares a sloping, horseshoe-shaped green with No. 9, which could make for exciting theater in a prime viewing area.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: UCLA’s Ani Gulugian made a hole-in-one at the par-3 eighth during Sunday’s practice round. . . . Florida, No. 11 in Golfweek‘s rankings, is playing the national championship without senior Isabelle Lendl in the lineup. Lendl also didn’t travel to the NCAA Central Regional with the Gators. . . . The first player to strike a ball Tuesday at the NCAA Championship will be Wisconsin’s Aaren Ziegler off the 10th tee at 7:30 a.m.