Whether or not they knew it at the time, the Trojan fivesome that won last spring’s NCAA Women’s Championship simultaneously secured a round-trip ticket to Hawaii. Head coach Andrea Gaston has played a different starting five in each fall tournament so far, but for next week’s season-ender in Kona, Hawaii, Gaston brought back the original gang.
USC is chasing a seventh consecutive victory at the Pac-12 Preview, to be played at the exclusive Nanea G.C. in Kona, Hawaii. The course, a David McLay Kidd design, was carved from a mountainside in 2003. The Preview will be the first non-member tournament ever played on the course.
Hawaii is hosting the event and as the only non-Pac-12 team in the tournament, and will round out the field to 12 teams (Utah doesn’t have a women’s golf team). The preview is a new concept with this conference, but it’s well timed. Once again, UCLA and USC are Nos. 1 and 2 in the nation.
A year ago at this time, both players struggled just to put together a starting five. This fall feels like old times. Even though USC has won all three events this fall and UCLA only two – USC beat UCLA at the Stanford Intercollegiate, their only head-to-head match, by five shot – the Bruins’ 20-shot victory at the Mason Rudolph Championship on Sept. 22 was key in their ranking.
As Gaston puts it, the conference likes to come together more than just once per year. With seven of the 11 Pac-12 teams ranked inside Golfweek’s top 20, it makes for compelling theater. The island backdrop only helps.
The Preview could be especially interesting as it’s the last time UCLA and USC will go head-to-head before the winter break. It’s never a heated battle, but as Gaston puts it, “Anytime you can beat your cross-town rival, it’s fun.”
Then there’s the idea of victory No. 7, which means that USC might have the biggest target on its back despite being ranked behing UCLA.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen by our team recently,” Gaston said of the streak, which dates back to the spring’s postseason sweep. She is in her 18th year at the helm of the Trojan program.
Gaston came back from last spring’s national championship hoping her players could keep their collective heads on straight with so many targets on their backs. They’ve done that and more. Freshmen Gabriella Then, who won the U.S. Girls’ Junior over the summer, and Karen Chung have been welcome additions to the roster.
For this weekend, however, the USC roster will be a throwback.