In Big Ten country, considerable stock is placed in the quality of golf that can be created away from the elements. As Ohio State’s indoor facility nears completion, the Buckeyes’ stock is also rising.
Ohio State players have been practicing in the Jane and Walt Dennis Golf Performance Center for nearly a month. The effects have been almost immediate: The Buckeyes won the Westbrook Invitational on Feb. 25, claiming their first team title in nearly two years.
Head coach Therese Hession lists the features of her program’s new facility like a long grocery list. It carries a nearly $7 million price tag, and is set up like a 50-yard indoor hole (complete with three artificial bunkers and one real one). The facility also contains a few TrackMan systems, a putting lab, workout room, player performance studio and both heated and netted hitting bays.
“It’s everything and anything you could have imagined,” said freshman Jessica Porvasnik, an Ohio native, who had been waiting patiently for completion. Ground was broken on the facility less than a year ago.
Porvasnik is another piece to the puzzle of a rising Ohio State team – one that’s ranked No. 33 by Golfweek. The freshman has been the low Buckeye in all but one start this season, and earned her first individual victory at the Westbrook. Porvasnik broke for lunch on a 36-hole opening day with a 7-under 65 on Westbrook Village’s Vista Course in Peoria, Ariz. She began Round 2 birdie, ace, birdie.
“Coach was like, ‘Breathe, keep going, you can do it,’” Porvasnik remembers. She signed for a 67 that afternoon and won the tournament the next day at 13-under 203.
Porvasnik, who won the Division I Ohio State Championship on Ohio State’s Grey Course as a high school senior, is part of a particularly strong class Hession brought together in Columbus, Ohio. Hession is a savvy recruiter, and had been waiting for this lineup to come together for a few years.
“When I was recruiting them, they really caught my eye,” she said. “First of all, they love to play golf. They want to be at practice, they see big things for themselves and they want to work really hard and get better.”
Porvasnik reps the class of 2013 with help from Zoe-Beth Brake (who leads the team in scoring at 72.5) of New Zealand, Ileen Domela of the Netherlands and Katja Pogacar of Slovenia. Rio Watanabe of Australia arrived after the fall season, but now it’s a tough lineup to crack.
“You don’t have to take a year to get used to college golf anymore,” Hession said, “so you don’t want to underestimate them.”
Ohio State has been a perennial top-25 team for the past decade, with a low point in Golfweek’s rankings, No. 43, coming at the end of last season. A talented crop of upperclassmen filtered out of the Buckeye lineup over the past few years, but Hession has rebuilt.
In winning the Westbrook Invitational, Ohio State broke a 54-hole program scoring record (at 26-under 838) that had stood for the past nine years. Hession is quick to point out that scoring conditions were ideal, however “you still have to get the ball in the hole.”
Perhaps most notably, the Westbrook victory came on the heals of the season opener Ohio State hosts at Palos Verdes (Calif.) Golf Club. Hession assembled a field with seven of Golfweek’s top 10 teams. With only two rounds on real grass under their collective belts, the Buckeyes finished last in the 16-team field.
“A lot of people probably think I’m crazy for starting the season like that,” said Hession, in her 19th year hosting the event, “but for me, I like to compete with anybody.”
• • •
Streak snapped: USC’s admirable run of eight straight tournament victories ended Feb. 25 at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. UCLA finished five shots ahead of the Trojans. The numbers surrounding that feat are still worth noting.
The Trojans, still atop Golfweek’s rankings, have won 12 of the past 15 events and finished second in two of the three events they didn’t win and fifth in the other.
The Allstate Sugar Bowl marked the third time in the 2013-14 season the two teams had gone head to head. UCLA fell five and three shots short, respectively, in its two previous tries. The Bruin team that won the Sugar Bowl has two holdovers from a 2011-12 team that won seven times.
• • •
Q&A with… Charlotte Jaengkit, a Grand Canyon junior who won her second tournament of the year Feb. 25 at the Grand Canyon Invitational. Jaengkit, from Bangkok, Thailand, placed fifth individually at last year’s NCAA Division II Championship before the Antelopes made the jump this year to Division I.
1. You won the Grand Canyon Invitational on the third hole of a playoff. Was that a nerve-wracking experience for you?
I was kind of nervous but not as much as the first one in Hawaii (the Rainbow Wahine Invitational). I did very good. We played three holes, and I got all pars and the other girl (Northern Arizona’s Brittany McKee) missed her par putt.
2. How did your last victory effect this experience — having been there before?
I felt very confident, especially when I did the playoff. I wasn’t really that nervous.
3. With a couple of victories under your belt now, what area of your game has made you a contender?
I think my putting got better than my freshman and sophomore years. That made my scores lower a little bit. I try to practice a lot on short game and especially putting, because it has been my weakness. … I do a lot of three-footers and lag putts.
4. You also have a solid streak of top 10s (six in the last seven) going. How do you describe the season so far?
The best part of my game is hitting. I am a very good ballstriker. I normally stay out of trouble.
5. Grand Canyon is competing at the Division I level for the first time this year. What’s the biggest difference?
The tournament that we played in as Division I is way tougher than Division II. That’s better because it’s made the whole team try to practice more.
6. You’re from Thailand, and there is a strong Thai contingent on the LPGA tour. Did any of those players influence you?
Pornanong Phatlum, I know her. I want to play on the LPGA tour after I graduate college. I haven’t played with (Pornanong) but we know each other. She is my idol because she is the first Thai girl that made the LPGA tour.