5 Things: Oklahoma prepared for Red Sky return

Oklahoma head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell (left) fist bumps junior Chirapat Jao-Javanil.

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WOLCOTT, Colo. – Veronique Drouin-Luttrell has been taking advantage of the elements back home in Norman, Okla., when she can. She had her Oklahoma players lacing up their running shoes early in the morning in an attempt to get acclimated to the colder temperatures they might face this week at the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

The Sooners open their season at Red Sky Golf Club’s Fazio Course as the defending champion of this event. Oklahoma won three times last season, including the Big 12 Conference Championship, and had a program-best T-6 finish at the NCAA Championship. That lineup is almost entirely intact at Red Sky. Junior Jade Staggs replaces senior Jacki Marshall this week. Familiarity in the team van is nice, and so is familiarity with this mountain venue.

“Knowing the greens definitely makes a little bit of a difference,” Drouin-Luttrell said. Slick greens are Red Sky’s best defense, and they should run between 11 and 12 on the Stimpmeter for the three rounds.

Even though Oklahoma has yet to play this season, the team should be in good form after a grueling September that doesn’t even take into account those early-morning jogs. Drouin-Luttrell had her players compete in nine qualifying rounds that took place over three weekends.

“It was a marathon,” she said, but notes that she’s confident she has the best possible roster.

That, of course, includes reigning NCAA individual champion Chirapat Jao-Javanil. Drouin-Luttrell said she’s not sure a humble Jao-Javanil, of Thailand, realizes yet what it means to have that target on her back. She has heard Jao-Javanil ask this question: “What does it mean to be a national champion?”

This season could be about finding an answer.

• • •

2. SPEAKING OF NCAA CHAMPIONS . . . Jao-Javanil also claimed the individual title at last year’s Golfweek Conference Challenge. It was one of three tournament titles the now-junior won last year. The other two came at the Central District Invitational and the NCAA Championship.

By winning the national title at the end of the year, Jao-Javanil became the second Golfweek Conference Challenge winner in the event’s three-year history to go on to win the national championship. Oklahoma State’s Caroline Hedwall won the event in 2009, when it was hosted at Primm Valley Golf Club in Primm, Nev., before winning nationals at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., that spring. Hedwall played on the winning European Solheim Cup team in 2011.

• • •

3. UNPRECEDENTED DEPTH: Campbell head coach John Crooks calls this year’s squad the deepest in memory. The Camels enter the Conference Challenge after winning Golfweek’s Program Challenge by 40 shots.

Crooks, however, is careful to base his season-long expectations on one blowout victory.

“To win by 40, a lot of things have to go right, and they did,” he said. Still, Campbell’s performance speaks for itself and merits this team some attention. Campbell drew a first-round pairing with UCLA, Golfweek’s preseason No. 2 team, and Tulsa.

The same Camels lineup that won at the Program Challenge will compete in Red Sky. Crooks has a nine-player roster, and three of five spots on the team are available through qualifying. Crooks reserves the other two spots for his own picks.

• • •

4. A FEW WOMEN DOWN: UCLA will compete at Red Sky this week with a roster of four players: senior Lee Lopez, junior Ani Gulugian and freshmen Jacquie LeMarr and Louise Ridderstrom.

Why the small team? Sophomore Erynne Lee is representing the United States at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey, and Kyle Roig is playing for her native Puerto Rico. Senior Tiffany Lua is resting a wrist injury after a long summer of amateur events and her recent start at the first stage of LPGA Q-School.

For the record, UCLA can fare just fine with four. The Bruins finished runner-up at the Bruin Wave Invitational last spring with only Gulugian, Lee, Lopez and Lua.

• • •

5. LOOKING FOR A SLEEPER PLAYER? Keep an eye on South Florida’s Christina Miller. The senior transfer from Mississippi won twice last year in her maiden season with the Bulls.

Long hitters will have an advantage at Red Sky as No. 3 will play as a reachable par 4, and the downhill, par-5 18th is easily reachable in two. Miller can play that game.

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