Central: Gulugian, UCLA take charge
Top team: UCLA (3-over 291)
Top individual: Ani Gulugian (UCLA), Nicole Zhang (Notre Dame), 1-under 71
In position (the next seven): 2. LSU (295), 3. Notre Dame (298), 4. Minnesota (301), T5. Duke (302), T5. Northwestern (302), T5. Stanford (302), Chattanooga (303)
Chasing (still work to do): 9. Kent State (304), T10. Ohio State (306), T10. Texas (306), 12. Arkansas (307)
Redemption: The focus of regional competition is usually directed at the eight teams that advance to the NCAA Championship. It’s the one tournament all year long that does not give a trophy to the winning team. Essentially, it’s a qualifier: 24 playing for eight spots.
UCLA, the No. 1 seed here in the Central Regional, may be approaching the week differently. A victory would put the memories of a third-place showing at the Pac-10 Conference Championship in the past.
“We want to win,” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. “We had a poor Pac-10. We didn’t play well. It was such a bummer after having such a good, strong season, to play like that.”
After recording four wins in nine starts this season and spending some time as the top-ranked team in the nation, the Bruins are one of the favorites to win the national championship.
“The Pac-10s was a wake-up call, in some ways,” Forsyth said. “For us, we want to see good golf. See good shots, execute the shots, and if it’s good enough to win – even better.”
UCLA executed better than any other team on the par-72, 6,208-yard Warren Golf Course on the Notre Dame campus. Freshman Ani Gulugian led UCLA with a 1-under 71, with sophomore Lee Lopez posting a level-par 72.
Senior weekend: This week is a big week for Notre Dame golf and its two seniors. Fifth-year head coach Susan Holt is hoping she can help lead her senior duo and the Fighting Irish past regional play and to the national championship for the first time in program history.
“This is a great opportunity for our program,” said Holt, whose Irish are in the postseason for a fourth consecutive year. “We have two seniors that have propelled this program to where we are right now, and for them, I would love to get to finals.”
Led by freshman Nicole Zhang's 71, Notre Dame is in third place after an opening-round 298. So-Hyun Park and Katie Conway each posted 4-over 76s.
The Irish have failed to advance past regionals in the past three postseasons. This year is different, Conway says.
“The program was at a very different place four years ago when I arrived, and this week has already been an unbelievable experience,” Conway said. “This would be the icing on the cake for us, and it’s what So-Hyun and I have been working for and the best way possible to go out and leave the program.”
Their coach is hoping to start a new trend with the ones to whom Conway and Park will hand over the program.
“We have never made it to the finals. Getting to regionals is now expected, and now we want the finals to be expected,” Holt said.
This week is a special wee for Holt, Conway and Park and the rest of the Notre Dame golf family.
“As a program, we are so thrilled to be hosting this event,” Holt said. “The girls were so excited today. We have had a really good year, and now it's time to step up and get it done."
Short Shots: The opening round was delayed 75 minutes due to frost … Kent State junior Mandi Morrow, who is the daughter of head coach Mike Morrow, used a 6-iron to make a hole-in-one on the par-3, 169-yard 14th hole … Minnesota was the top team playing in the afternoon wave. The Gophers posted a 301 and sit alone in fourth place … LSU senior Megan McChrystal posted an even-par 72 in the opening round and is just one shot off the lead. McChrystal is still in the running for Player of the Year honors, and a regional victory would help her cause.