West: Texas feeling at home in Tempe

Kristin Walla of University of Texas watches a shot intensely.

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TEMPE, Ariz. – Teams that play in the late-early wave don’t normally have a lot of success in regional play. That’s not the case for a couple of teams this year at the NCAA West Regional.

Playing in the afternoon in the first round and then early in Round 2, Texas and Texas A&M have each found a spot inside the top 8 after two days at Karsten Golf Course.

After opening with an even-par 288 that left the 17th-seeded Longhorns in a tie for second place, Texas posted a 2-over 290 Friday morning and sits alone in fourth place at 578. Texas A&M is tied for seventh.

Top-ranked Arizona State continues to dominate the 21-team field. The host Sun Devils backed up a course record 15-under 273 with 5-under 283 for a 556 total to lead Southern California by 16 shots.

The top eight teams will advance to the NCAA Championship May 19-22 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md.

Texas coach Martha Richards acknowledged that her team’s tee times might have been beneficial.

“We finished yesterday, we ate dinner, we went to bed and we got up and played again,” Richards said. “Given the preference, I like late-early.”

Freshman Nicole Vandermade also saw an advantage.

“It allowed us to keep our momentum, that’s for sure,” Vandermade said. “We did not have time to think too much.”

Martha Richards left Vanderbilt two years ago to become head coach at Texas. The Longhorns had not been to the NCAA Championship in the previous three seasons before Richards’ arrival in Austin.

A year ago, playing host at the Central Regional, the Longhorns finished seventh and advanced to the national championship, where they tied for 17th place. A good final round and Texas will make it back to the finals for the second consecutive season.

Texas might be the best No. 17 seed the tournament has seen since the start of NCAA regional competition in 1993. The Longhorns, No. 40 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, certainly aren’t just happy to here.

“Rankings are rankings, and we can’t do much about that,” Vandermade said. “But it has definitely been motivation for us to show and prove that we could make it and play really good golf.”

With 17 of the 21 teams ranked within the Golfweek/Sagarin top 50, it’s not surprising seeing the lower-seeded teams make some noise. Vandermade said her team has not all played well at the same time this season. And if there was going to be a good week to have that happen - this week would be it.

“They have played really well and really smart,” Richards said. “A lot of them have played here and they are very comfortable out here.”

Richards is also very comfortable in Tempe. As a collegiate golfer at Stanford, Richards won her lone college tournament at Karsten Golf Course and has a lot of experience to draw from. In one year, Richards said Stanford played The Preview, Lady Sun Devil, Pac-10 Championship and NCAA Championship at Karsten GC.

“I felt all along that this is the regional I want to get to sent to,” Richards said. “From a coaching perspective, when you have actually played a lot on a course, I really like that.”

With four players in the top 30, maybe the Longhorns are feeding off their coaches’ familiarity, too.

“We can kind of sense it and it has translated to our team,” Vandermade said. “She has told us, ‘This is where I made birdie from and this is where I made a putt to win.’ Everyone just feels so comfortable here.”

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