Regan de Guzman doesn’t know her driver specs by heart. The club has only been in her bag for two weeks, but Tuesday it led de Guzman outside the fairway just once – on the 18th hole.
The new driver also led de Guzman to the top of the individual leaderboard in the first round of the NCAA Championship. De Guzman shot 5-under 67 at the University of Georgia Golf Course, which, as head coach John Dormann will tell you, is a lot easier to do from the middle of the fairway.
“Everything starts there for women’s golf,” Dormann said.
De Guzman’s old driver, one she’d had for five years, recently developed a mysterious dent in the head, which made De Guzman nervous. The young Filipino was so attached to the club that she would even jokingly talk to it, hoping to keep it working properly. “Are you thirsty? Do you want water?” She considered buying a new one, but instead asked Dormann to help her find a replacement. Enter the Titleist 910D3 (with 8.5 degrees of loft and an extra stiff shaft). It left another San Jose State bag – that of men’s player Daniel Semmler – and has played a crucial role in San Jose State’s postseason.
“When I hit it, it was perfect,” de Guzman said.
The Spartans posted a 4-under 284 Tuesday, the low score of the morning and one that held up even as first-round favorites Alabama and USC took the course in the afternoon wave. San Jose State’s score was the best national-championship round in program history.
“The first day is like a carry-over from their final round at Stanford,” Dormann said on a humid afternoon in Athens.
The Spartans had shot even-par 284 at Stanford Golf Course on May 11, which left the team, No. 53 in Golfweek’s rankings, on the national-championship chopping block. They ended up advancing with not a shot to spare. It’s their first time here since 2010, when San Jose State also qualified out of the West Regional held at Stanford.
While de Guzman’s play is a big reason for San Jose State’s recent success, Dormann said the team didn’t quite click early season because there wasn’t a solid fivesome. As Jennifer Brumbaugh played a bigger role in the spring, the Spartans counted two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish in the second half of the season.
“We were always right there, but could never quite finish a round, seal the deal,” Dormann said. “We finally did it at Stanford.”
Part of that was mental, so Dormann had his players doing some “goofy” drills as the season wore on. For example, during qualifying rounds, Dormann made the last three holes count double.
“If they want to create that type of pressure on themselves, we’ll create even more for them,” Dormann explained. On Tuesday, San Jose State went 2 under in the final three holes.
Dormann formerly caddied for Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon, and also for his wife Dana, his assistant coach. He’s one of the more knowledgeable coaches in women’s golf, and likely one of the reasons his players managed the University of Georgia course so effectively on Tuesday. Dormann read a lot of greens, but other than that, stayed out of the way.
The Spartans had not seen the course before this week – in fact, they hadn’t been to the East Coast all year. Dormann scheduled starts in Colorado, Arizona, Hawaii and twice at Stanford, which was strategic. His players learned to play on different venues, which could be one reason they adjusted so well in Athens. The University of Georgia Golf Course puts a premium on ball-striking.
Only USC could catch San Jose State at 4 under. Head coach Andrea Gaston, a San Jose State alumnae, didn’t expect 4 under to be attainable Tuesday. She and the Trojans figured 2 over might be good enough for the lead.
“Even for the long hitters, you have some longer shots coming in,” Gaston said. Freshman Annie Park, the Trojan long hitter, couldn’t catch Guzman, either. Park, Golfweek’s top-ranked player, shot 2-under 70 for a share of fourth.
Duke freshman Celine Boutier shot a career-best 69, which was the closest any player got to de Guzman. Duke was third on the team leaderboard, two shots behind.
San Jose State quickly sought refuge from Tuesday’s heavy heat, but each teammate who passed de Guzman on her way to shelter greeted de Guzman with a hug.
“I’m sharing my happiness with them (today),” de Guzman said of helping pull her team up the leaderboard. De Guzman, a redshirt freshman this season, had three-runner-up finishes in the spring.
A year ago, de Guzman was at University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. She plays classical guitar and was studying music there. De Guzman brought two guitars with her to San Jose State, and sometimes plays for her teammates. The rhythm helps with her own golf game.
According to Dormann, de Guzman may be “the best player no one had heard of,” at least until the national championship. De Guzman knows how to keep the game simple, and Dormann says she’s a great player to caddie for. These days, for Dormann, that means walking next to his player and coaching. He spent little time with de Guzman as she carded seven birdies.
“This is not a good course to be aggressive,” de Guzman said. “You have to respect the course.”
Come Wednesday, opponents also must respect the Spartans.