Tulane high on life, leaderboard at regionals
AUBURN, Ala. – This week at the Auburn University Club, it’s all about earning a berth into the NCAA Championship. Tulane has accomplished the feat three times in program history.
Last week was about a different kind of birth for head coach Andrew Pratt – the birth of his second son, Weston Rountree Pratt. Born May 2 at 2:46 a.m., Weston entered this world three weeks early at 6 pounds, 9 ounces.
“It was tough to leave him,” said Pratt, beaming. His in-laws are back home in New Orleans helping wife Sara stay sane.
Anything that happens these next few weeks on the golf course is icing for Pratt. A successful birth trumps a successful berth every time.
And yet, Pratt’s Waves did their best to make Papa Pratt proud, carding a 5-under 283 on a sunny day in ’Bama to trail the Tide by six strokes. It was a solid start for seventh-seeded Tulane, which counts three freshmen on its roster of five.
Leading the way for the Waves was freshman Emily Penttila, who posted eight birdies in a 4-under 68. She rattled off five in a row on Nos. 3-7. Thursday’s round was her 10th sub-par round of the year. Both Penttila and freshman Madison Opfer have tied the school record for lowest round this season at 5-under 67. Opfer shot 70 on Thursday to open regional action.
Penttila, a 20-year-old Finnish player, visited four schools before deciding on Tulane. Pratt, a second-year coach who had the mission of finding two good players in a month and a half, chose Penttila without actually watching her hit a golf shot live. He’d seen plenty of tape, however, and was most impressed with her mature disposition during a campus visit. He also liked the fact that Penttila’s ultimate goal is the LPGA.
“She’s not scared to go low,” he said. “That’s a trait that not very many young players have.”
Penttila said that while it sounds cliche, a team goal this postseason was to simply work on self-belief.
“Doing your own thing and deciding that’s good enough,” she said.
The Wave entered regional action high off a 27-stroke victory at the Conference USA Championship, their largest margin of victory in five conference titles. Pratt, incidentally, was named Conference USA Coach of the Year the same day his wife gave birth. The couple also have a 2-year-old son named Cooper.
Pratt has led the Green Wave to five consecutive top-5 finishes this spring, a handy stat at a tournament where only the top eight advance.
College coaches have different approaches for how they go about advising five players over a course that stretches for miles. Some stand on par 3s and float around in a golf cart, catching up with each player every four or five holes. Others, like Pratt, pick one player to watch each round and catch up with the rest of the team on the 18th.
On Thursday, Pratt walked 18 holes with the lone senior on the team, Maribel Lopez Porras. She missed a short putt on 18 to shoot 73. Assistant coach Linn Gustafson walked 18 with Opfer. The rest were left on their own.
“A lot of it is based on how they’re playing or thinking going into a tournament,” said Pratt, who didn’t like his own college coach popping up every few holes back when he played.
It would seem Penttila got along just fine on her own, which she prefers. Two more days until Tulane’s potential fourth NCAA berth. Good things tend to come early for Pratt.