Host Texas A&M relieved to play at home

Texas A&M is playing host to the 2011 NCAA Women's National Championship at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas.

Texas A&M is playing host to the 2011 NCAA Women's National Championship at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas.

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5Arkansas 71.66 

BRYAN, Texas – For Texas A&M, this week is easy. Well, maybe not easy, but certainly a relaxing week compared to two weeks ago in Washington, where the Aggies needed a trio of late birdies to slip past Oregon and squeeze into the NCAA Championship for the eighth and final spot.

It’s tough to host a party that you’re not invited to, and A&M desperately wanted to compete on its home turf this week at Traditions Golf Club. Texas A&M is the first host school to qualify for the NCAAs since Purdue finished 12th in 2003.

“You could feel (the pressure) the last two days of regionals, really the last day,” said head coach Trelle McCombs. “They just got into forced mode.”

McCombs planned to reiterate to her team Tuesday that the pressure is off. The Aggies may be staying at the Hilton like the rest of the field this week, but they’re home.

This week’s championship could be vastly different than what teams saw in the Fall Preview. For starters, there’s a clubhouse. McCombs said the previous owners ran out of money and delayed its construction. There was a soft opening in November and by January, the place was running full-throttle. First-time visitors would never guess.

The wind was unusually quiet in September, virtually nonexistent, which led to Alabama’s winning score of 15 under. McCombs said she put the hole locations in accessible positions last fall. The NCAA, however, would rather see the champion post something around even par. That won’t be difficult, she said, if the winds come as scheduled. Last Thursday marked the first time this course had seen rain in 115 days. More rain is expected later in the week.

McCombs said it has been a tale of two seasons for her squad. The Aggies spent the fall trying to “find” themselves after losing a pair of strong leaders. In the spring, she had players “walk a mile” in their teammates’ shoes. Each player picked an activity that defined her, whether that was cooking, watching “Jersey Shore” or riding a bike, and the entire team jumped into the experience.

They started with freshman Katerina Ruzickova, who rides a bike to practice from her dorm room. One cold afternoon, all the Aggies rode several miles in Ruzickova’s shoes.

“It gave them a new sense of appreciation for what she does,” said McCombs, who felt the team bonding experiences gave her program a much-needed boost.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Aggies wrapped up play on the ninth hole with team psychologist John Eliot doing pushups behind the green. He did 270 pushups throughout the course of nine holes, 10 of them one-handed thanks to an eagle. His “pain” is a small reward for players who get up-and-down for par or knock in birdies. McCombs and Co. tried to keep the mood light.

“It’s nice to finally be here,” said sophomore Susy Grunden.

The finish this week (Saturday rather than Friday) has the potential to be more compelling since McCombs turned the 18th into a par 5 two years ago. After watching so many players lay up on the final hole because rain or wind kept them from reaching the green in regulation, McCombs elected to push the tees all the way back to give players an easier par 5.

“That’s what you want on the last hole,” said McCombs, moments after a player holed out from the fairway for eagle on the 18th during Tuesday’s practice round. “Give the championship some excitement.”

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