As the spring season progresses, Golfweek is monitoring the race for the inaugural Annika Award presented by 3M. The award is presented to the best female college player, as voted on by players, coaches and select media. An update will be posted each Friday on Golfweek.com. If you’d like to register to be a voter, please click here.
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When Noemi Jimenez talks about her golf game, there is always a silver lining. The talented young Spaniard is still missing the defining collegiate victory of her junior season at Arizona State, one during which she has had five top-5 finishes, but Jimenez is strong in her belief that she’ll get it when it’s time.
That victory very nearly came April 6 at the Sun Devils’ home event, the Ping/ASU Invitational. It was the third-strongest field assembled yet this year, and Jimenez finished second at 7-under 209, one shot off Duke sophomore Celine Boutier’s lead. The two were tied entering the 18th hole at Karsten Golf Course, but Boutier birdied as Jimenez parred.
“It’s one of the most difficult holes on the course,” Jimenez said, lauding Boutier’s birdie. Then, “I played pretty well. I didn’t have any complaints with my game.”
With time to assess the whole weekend, Jimenez took pride in battling a rough opening day to finish at even-par 72. She came back with a 71, which included two unexpected bogeys in the final three holes, before closing with a bogey-free 66. Playing with Boutier the final day, Jimenez concentrated on keeping pace.
“I knew that either me or her was going to win the tournament,” Jimenez said. “… I was feeling a little bit nervous, but I really liked how I managed my nerves on the last hole.”
Even five days later, Jimenez speaks of the tournament with palpable excitement. On one hand, she recognizes that without the last-minute bogeys in Round 2, she could have won the tournament. The bogeys, however, also “gave me a lot of motivation for the last day.”
Jimenez is the only player inside Golfweek’s top 10 without a victory this season. She’s itching for it, but not to the detriment of her game.
“I know that this season, I’ve been really consistent, which is really important for golf and for my team,” she said. “… I don’t have to change my game, I just (have to) keep playing like that.”
Jimenez keeps contending because of confidence and patience. She won back-to-back victories tournaments last season, the Cal Classic and the Darius Rucker Invitational, and because she’s “been there before,” Jimenez knows her strengths and weaknesses. She’s not a perfectionist anymore, which has helped her become more realistic on the golf course.
Jimenez hits a high percentage of fairways, which sets her up for birdie opportunities. Her putting has improved this year, and now the most attention is on her wedge game. It’s a team-wide area of improvement, guided by head coach Melissa Luellen and assistant coach Missy Farr-Kaye.
“If you’re good at it, you can have a lot of options,” she said of touch shots around the greens, particularly on par 5s. “If you’re not, then you’re kind of wasting opportunities for birdie.”
Jimenez, with her infectious spirit, isn’t one for wasting opportunities of any sort. So it’s on to the Pac-12 Championship and postseason. The national championship will be played at Tulsa Country Club this year and all Jimenez can think about, after a T-2 finish at the Fall Preview earlier this season, is going back.
“It looks really good for us, we really like that course,” she said.
It’s a leg up already.
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Other notable players and performances
Alison Lee, UCLA
Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 1
In a few words: Made the cut at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and finished T-29. Now it’s back to the college circuit.
Annie Park, USC
Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 2
In a few words: Missed the cut at the Kraft, but a good experience for Park nonetheless.
Yu Liu, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 3
In a few words: Since winning the Darius Rucker, Liu has finished inside the top 10 twice. Building a reputation as a quiet contender.
Celine Boutier, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 10
In a few words: Boutier is making an excellent case for herself as one of the top golfers in any field. Back-to-back victories at the Bryan National Collegiate and Ping/ASU Invitational show a complete game.