USC, Song lead at NCAA Championship
WILMINGTON, N.C. – Jennifer Song didn’t waste any time taking it to the Country Club of Landfall, a venue the USC sophomore missed out on at the NCAA Fall Preview. Song was playing in the LPGA's Hana Bank Kolon Championship that week. After this week’s NCAA Women’s Championship, she’ll play in the Curtis Cup, then hit the pro ranks for good. For now, however, Song and her fellow Trojans have a title to chase.
Song carried her team to the top of the leaderboard Tuesday with an eagle at the par-5 18th, where she stuck a 6-iron to 3 feet from 178 yards. It was the finishing touch on a 5-under 67 and bumped the Trojans, fresh off their Central Regional victory, to 6-under 282, two shots ahead of Purdue. Song is part of a three-way tie for the individual lead.
The round came on the heels of an impromptu tip from her swing coach in her native Korea, Robin Symes, that had Song reverting back to her fundamentals and working on her takeaway.
“Just before coming to this tournament I decided to e-mail (a video of) my swing to my dad because I was having trouble with my shots but I didn’t know that my dad was going to send it to Robin,” Song said.
The resulting surge to the top of the leaderboard is “super exciting” for Song, who’s taking in every moment of her final week as a collegiate athlete.
“Just being able to be with my team is just one of the best memories I’ll have in my life,” she said.
With a lot of golf left to be played, Trojans head coach Andrea Gaston is trying not to focus on results. She’s also not thinking about losing Song to the pros and lone senior Belen Mozo to graduation.
“More than anything I just want to keep them very present and looking at the shot in front of them,” Gaston said. “I try not to get too emotional, that can all come if we’re where we want to be on the last day.”
USC, who finished third at the NCAA Women’s Championship last season, won the national championship in 2003 and 2008, and has finished in the top 4 in five of the past seven years.
Gaston entered the first round with a good feeling after two successful practice rounds at Landfall. This trip was a far cry from the Preview, when the Trojans tied for 12th without Song and Mozo (who withdrew because of an injury). Cyna Rodriguez, who didn’t travel with the team that week either, put up a 68 in Round 1. She is part of a three-way tie for fourth individually.
Redemption was a similar theme across the course at No. 9, where co-leader Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, a junior at Purdue, narrowly missed a birdie putt for the outright lead.
“I didn’t play well at the Preview last fall so I knew it was not an easy course,” said LeBlanc, who spent the last week working on her tempo.
Together with teammate Laura Gonzalez, who shot 70, LeBlanc helped the Boilermakers make a statement in Round 1. With a solid first round in the books – and with a renewed focus on golf now that finals are over – head coach Devon Brouse is looking for more help from the bottom of the lineup this week.
“I think there are four days to make statements, and if you don’t make one the first day, you can’t make it for four days,” Brouse said. “Let’s hope we keep making statements.”
The Boilermakers are sandwiched by Pac-10 powerhouses. Arizona State – led by a 67 from Jennifer Johnson – and UCLA are four shots back at 288. Duke is also tied for third at 288. The top 10 teams on the leaderboard all are within 12 shots after a day that saw light winds and receptive greens thanks to rain earlier in the week.
Florida State posted the best round in the morning wave, and managed to hold on to a share of sixth with Alabama. The Seminoles are at 289, after going 4 under at the final hole.
“These girls like Bermudagrass and have really played well all semester so it’s no surprise to us,” FSU interim coach Kate Golden said. “I’m sure it’s a surprise to other people. They’re really a solid bunch of girls and . . . they had a good one today.”
Golden, too, is quick to recite the theme of the week: Focus.
The national championship is a marathon, not a sprint.