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Virginia, LSU strike out at NCAAs; darkness leaves UCLA on the bubble

BRADENTON, Fla. – It was the kind of week in which Kim Lewellen had to deliver a lot of pep talks. Concession Golf Club drove up scores across the board, and Virginia was one of the teams left on the outside looking in late Sunday evening as darkness suspended the third round.

Players on other teams left the course with as many as five holes to complete Monday morning before the 24-team field is cut to 15. Still, a spot in the fourth and final round of stroke play won’t be in the cards for Virginia. The Cavaliers are tied for 20th at 74 over after putting up their three worst 18-hole scores of the season this week.

“It’s a tough golf course, a lot of their self identity is from the golf,” Lewellen said. “I want to make sure that I protect that and that they leave happy golfers. That’s my job as a coach.”

It was a funny feeling watching scores balloon for the past three days. Lewellen doesn’t deny the course’s beauty, but it’s among the most difficult she has seen. Virginia entered the week ranked No. 10 by Golfweek, just weeks removed from the first ACC title in program history. Lewellen never would have imagined that her team wouldn’t make the first cut.

Sophomore Lauren Diaz-Yi dropped her putter on the eighth hole late Sunday afternoon, and it inexplicably broke in two pieces. Lewellen consulted a rules official to make sure she could go into the pro shop and buy a new putter.

Luckily, the horn sounded for a weather delay during that process, so Diaz-Yi got to test out the new club. Turns out, the Rules of Golf also allow a player to putt midround on the carpet inside the pro shop, which is what Diaz-Yi did as she selected a new Scotty Cameron putter.

It was an expensive hour, but Concession’s greens aren’t the kind you can navigate by substituting a wedge for the flatstick.

“Maybe this is going to turn it all around,” Lewellen thought when play resumed and Diaz-Yi birdied her first hole.

It was that kind of day.

LSU, paired with Virginia on Sunday, suffered the same surprising fate. Head coach Karen Bahnsen thought her team, ranked No. 6, would easily make the top 15. Concession was simply a good test that got the better of her team.

“I’ve been coaching for 31 years, and this is the toughest,” she said of the layout.

Four LSU players had to finish the second round on Sunday morning, and Bahnsen sent her team home for a nap between the end of that round and a 1 p.m. third-round starting time. She returned to the course to scout.

What you see on paper isn’t always what you get in real life at Concession, and Bahnsen wished she’d had more time earlier in the week to do what she did before the third round. It was hard for her to get around the course to see all of her players during competition, but on Sunday, she put big stars on the schematics, telling her players exactly where to hit it. That wasn’t necessarily at the pin, and her players struggled with that advice.

“We’re an aggressive team,” she said.

Yet to be seen is how UCLA, ranked No. 2, will fare Monday morning when it returns to the course to finish the third round. The Bruins were 22nd at the start of that round but climbed to 16th by the time play was called. They’ll need a good finish to earn a fourth-round tee time.

A good indicator of the difficulty of Concession is how it punished UCLA senior Erynne Lee, one of the top players in the country. Lee made a 13 on the first trip through the par-4 eighth that included three lost balls and two shanks. Lee kept trying to regroup but couldn’t find her confidence on the hole.

UCLA assistant coach Alicia Um-Holmes walked with Lee for the entire third round, which helped Lee find peace. She went 4 under on her final nine (the front) and helped keep UCLA in the mix.

“I ended up parring the hole (in the afternoon), which was pretty mentally amazing,” she said.

UCLA’s theme the past two days has been to stay courageous and play as if it has nothing to lose. Hard to say how far that might carry the Bruins when the sun comes up on Concession.

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