The deeper USC plays into the season, the more its story becomes like a riddle. How many different fivesomes can head coach Andrea Gaston create out of a roster with seven very capable competitors?
In the fall, there were four combinations, four victories. With a victory at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, USC brought home a fifth trophy in five starts. Add a postseason sweep from last spring, and the Trojans are on an unheard-of eight-tournament winning streak.
USC is the biggest story in women’s golf this season, especially on the heels of a year during which California’s men won 11 times in 14 starts. USC’s perfect run is unprecedented for a women’s team.
“They’re very well aware of what’s going on,” Gaston says of the hype that is beginning to build around her team. “…Even though that might be in the background, they’re focusing on their game.”
At the Northrop Grumman, played at nearby Palos Verdes Golf Club (a familiar venue for the Trojans), Gaston started Annie Park, Sophia Popov, Kyung Kim, Karen Chung and Doris Chen. That lineup has appeared one other time this season – at the Stanford Collegiate. That week, USC won by five.
This time, USC won by seven, and that was after leaking oil into the clubhouse. A 5-under 279 in Round 2 gave the Trojans a 14-shot lead. They dropped 10 shots to Duke in the final round.
“I never take any lead for granted,” Gaston said. “This being the first tournament of the season, I think maybe we weren’t as prepared.”
It was a combination of fatigue and feeling over-comfortable, but it’s early in the season, and on this roster, there is no such thing as comfortable.
“They have to all be on edge,” Gaston said. “I’m looking at performance, but I’m also looking at team chemistry.”
Palos Verdes was the backdrop for a meaningful – and historic – eighth win, but it also had sentimental value. It’s where Jim Gormley, a longtime Trojan ally, works as the director of golf. Gormley has worked with the swing of many a USC player, including current LPGA player Lizette Salas. When Gormley was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last spring, USC wore Trojan red patches with “Gorms” on their golf bags. Gaston happily reports Gormley is back in good health.
Also back to normal? Sophomore Annie Park, who won her first college tournament since last spring’s NCAA Championship. It was her fifth victory as a Trojan and signals that Park has found her groove again. She opened with rounds of 4-under 67, which included two eagles, but made five consecutive bogeys on Nos. 13-17 to end Round 3 with a 73.
“She doesn’t make things complicated,” Gaston said of Park.
With eight victories and counting, “complicated” is a word that doesn’t belong anywhere near the USC camp.
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TRANSFER SEASON: By the time the Atlantic Sun Championship rolls around in mid-April, Kennesaw State will already have made seven spring starts. After the Owl roster dwindled to four in the fall, head coach Rhyll Brinsmead has her numbers back to normal and her schedule on the high side.
“We really loaded up,” Brinsmead said last fall. “Obviously we had to get approval from our academic services to do so.”
Kennesaw State played its two fall events with four players, but Brinsmead added the Rebel Intercollegiate, John Kirk Panther Invitational and Dr. Donnis Invitational to the spring schedule upon adding transfer Mette Kryger Pedersen from Chattanooga. Hayley Clinning, from New Zealand, is now cleared to play after a wrist injury, and freshman Laura Estefenn, of Colombia, made her debut at the UCF Challenge earlier this week.
“It’s been an all-around effort to make this happen,” Brinsmead said.
It paid off as Kennesaw State kicked off the fall with a full and healthy fivesome at the UCF Challenge and finished 17th.
Other notable transfers:
• Oklahoma State added Linnea Johansson, a former Nova Southeastern player who finished the 2012-13 season (as a freshman) ranked No. 2 among all Division II players.
• After losing standout Englishwoman Lauren Taylor to the pros over the summer, Baylor added Louise Gateau-Chovelon and Allison Kuntz this spring. The Bears led after Round 1 at the Northrop Grumman, and eventually finished seventh. Gateau-Chovelon was T-33 individually.
• Lauren English transferred from Iowa to Illinois State. English grew up in the Bloomington-Normal area, so the transfer is a move back home.
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Q&A WITH . . . A little over halfway into her freshman season at Oklahoma, Alexandra Kaui’s numbers are stellar. She’s the ninth-ranked freshman in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, No. 26 overall, she maintained a 71.17 scoring average through four fall events to lead the Sooners and most recently, tied for third (71-69-75) at the Northrop Grumman Invitational.
The Northrop Grumman is one of the deepest fields you’ve played as a Sooner. What are your thoughts on how you stacked up?
Overall for the tournament, I think I played well. Even though every athlete is going to critique their own performance, I’m still going to say I played well at these tournaments and that being T-3 even after my triple on the last day just kind of shows that there is room for improvement. I’m still content with the result.
Is your ability to overcome a bad hole one of your strengths?
Yes, I really have a lot of patience out there on the course and my coaches compliment me on that.
You own the 18- and 54-hole scoring records at Oklahoma. What’s another goal you have for yourself?
Ultimately my goal is to win an NCAA individual (title). I think that’s a good goal to look forward to for anybody and especially after my performance in the fall, I feel like it’s very possible for me to attain that.
How do you move from a warm-weather climate (Las Vegas) to a colder one and still excel at golf?
I just keep positive and I keep telling myself just to keep practicing as much as I possibly can. Just by adapting and finding out how to practice and play in these conditions.
You get to practice every day with former NCAA champion Chirapat Jao-Javanil (who won in 2012). What have you learned from her?
Since the fall season, my travel team is basically filled with seniors. Overall from the seniors I got to learn the ropes of what it’s like to travel the college circuit and how to react to certain things that happen on the course. With Ja, she’s actually one of my really good friends on the team. We have a good connection and she’s always just so calm about everything. … If she plays bad in some rounds, she’s just kind of over it.
Oklahoma has consistently climbed the rankings for the past few seasons. What’s it like to be part of a team so consistently on the rise?
It feels like I have a lot more confidence in myself and for the team since being on a team where everyone is so competitive and everyone is almost always playing well, it’s just really empowering, especially for an athlete to have more confidence that before.
You’re one of the top 10 freshmen in the country, and 2013 was a strong class! What part of your game puts you among that group?
I think what’s really helped me a lot was going through the competitive circuit from scratch. I started off kind of slow. I was a late bloomer when it came to AJGA. I think all the experience of going through qualifiers and really playing with the toughest class has made me be able to develop my game and adapt to each field.