WOLCOTT, Colo. – San Diego State coach Leslie Spalding calls this year’s team the best she’s ever had. That leads to high expectations for the Aztecs, who enter this year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge looking for a three-peat.
“We’re six deep of players that can break par every round,” said Spalding, a 10-year veteran of the LPGA.
This marks the ninth playing of the Conference Challenge, and the eighth staging on the dramatic Red Sky Ranch Fazio Course. Pepperdine is a four-time winner of the event, with three of those victories coming at Red Sky. Arizona is at Red Sky for the first time since 2010.
Individual winners of the event include former Solheim Cup player Caroline Hedwall (Oklahoma State) and Virginia’s Brittany Altomare, who recently lost in a playoff to Anna Nordqvist at the Evian Championship in France.
Twelve of the 18 teams in this year’s field advanced to NCAA regional play last spring. First-timers include Michigan, Sacramento State, Akron, Eastern Kentucky, College of Charleston, Mercer and UC Riverside.
Pepperdine coach Laurie Gibbs said the Waves spend time working with Trackman on their numbers prior to arriving.
“Understanding what that ball does in altitude and then trusting that (is key),” said Gibbs. The highest point on the Fazio course is 7,950 feet. The elevation in Malibu is 105 feet.
It’s been a banner year for Pepperdine alumni. Danielle Kang won a major and played a starring role on the U.S. Solheim Cup team. Katherine Kirk, the 2003 NCAA Player of the Year at Pepperdine, won for a third time on the LPGA at age 35.
It adds up to important publicity for a Waves program that advanced to the NCAA finals in May.
“This year was, ‘Oh wow, we got there,’ ” said Gibbs. “(In 2018) we’re going to get there … and now let’s do something special.”
Spalding brings a new perspective to her seventh year as head coach of the Aztecs. In July, she teed it up in competition for the first time in a dozen years at the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship at French Lick (Ind.). She’d been on an African safari for three weeks leading into the first senior major and felt unprepared. Spalding ultimately tied for 39th and returned to San Diego with a fresh outlook.
“Sometimes I’ll expect a lot of out of them,” said Spalding. “That’s part of a problem with me being a tour player. My expectations of myself are so high, sometimes I expect that out of them. … I have to check myself, always.”
The three-day tournament kicks off on Sept. 25, but Spalding considered Sunday’s practice round a “big deal.” She wants her players – particularly the three here for the first time – to see the course as she sees it. Missing it in the right place is key.
“Giving yourself a putt that you hit rather than just touch,” she said.
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What: Golfweek Conference Challenge
Where: Red Sky GC’s Fazio Course, Wolcott, Colo.
When: Sept. 25-27
Format: 54-hole stroke play
- Central Arkansas
- Coastal Carolina
- College of Charleston
- Eastern Kentucky
- Old Dominion
- Sacramento State
- San Diego State
- UC Riverside
• • •
2016 – San Diego State, 2-over 866
2015 – San Diego State, 6-under 858
2014 – Pepperdine, 2-under 862
2013 – Pepperdine, 5-over 869
2012 – Pepperdine, 4-under 860
2011 – Oklahoma, 35-over 899
2010 – Virginia, 13-over 877
2009 – Pepperdine, 17-over 881
2016 – Marlene Krolboll Hansen, Coastal Carolina (9-under 207)
2015 – Emma Henrikson, San Diego State (10-under 206)
2014 – Marissa Chow, Pepperdine (6-under 210)
2013 – Grace Na, Pepperdine (6-under 210)
2012 – Demi Runas, UC Davis (7-under 209)
2011 – Chirapat Jao-Javanil, Oklahoma (1-over 217)
2010 – Brittany Altomare, Virginia (4-under 212)
2009 – Caroline Hedwall, Oklahoma State (9-under 207)