Notes: Kentucky women enjoying a revival
When Golda Borst talks about her young Kentucky team, one that climbed to No. 17 in Golfweek’s rankings after its best fall season in years, it’s with fire and spunk. The coach, a fierce competitor with her roots set firmly in the SEC, wants Kentucky to become a contender in one of the strongest conferences for women’s golf in the nation.
“We’re starting to change the culture,” Borst said of golf at Kentucky.
The Wildcats won their first fall outing, The “Mo”Morial, and closed the season with a trip west to compete in the Stanford Intercollegiate. Borst has had her eye on that field, and when a last-minute spot opened up, Kentucky was eager to fill it. The Wildcats finished halfway down the leaderboard, but sophomore Cylia Damerau put together her season-best 54-hole score. Two weeks prior, senior Liz Breed was runner-up at the Schooner Classic, a career-best. The team builds on these small victories as Borst keeps pushing for better fields in which her players can test their games.
“Strength of schedule is a big thing for us, and a big way we’ve been able to turn the program around,” Borst said.
Other pieces are falling into place, too. As the women’s team rises, so does the men’s team (No. 32 in Golfweek’s rankings after finishing in the top 5 in every start) Kentucky also has garnered attention lately with the grand opening of the UK Golf House, a nearly 12,000-square-foot indoor facility. It’s a project that’s been in the works for years and, as Borst noted, another step in the right direction -- especially in an unseasonbly cold winter.
For Kentucky’s women, and especially for Borst, director of golf Bettie Lou Evans is a daily reminder of how far the program has come -- and what its future could hold. Evans coached the Wildcats for 22 years, and told Borst recently that Kentucky was the top-ranked team in the nation for one week in 1983.
“She’s my walking history book,” Borst said.
The next step is to bring back the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational to honor her legacy. The Kentucky-hosted tournament ended after the 2011-12 season as new tournaments popped up on the competition schedule and Borst found it hard to find a date and a competitive field. Still, it’s near the top of her to-do list after freshman Haley Mills pleaded with her coach to bring back the home event before she graduates.
While Borst tries to distract her team from its rise in the rankings, she’s not naive enough to believe her players aren’t looking. It’s another part of the culture.
“They just want to see how far they can get,” said Borst, who has succeeded in drawing in the players who may be under the radar, but are passionate about building a program.
Two sophomores and three freshmen fit that bill this season, and senior Breed leads the charge as they nip at her heels.
“Having these younger players for Liz Breed has been really good,” Borst said. “She doesn’t like to get beat.”
Kentucky will play in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate this weekend for the first time, another deep field for the Wildcats.
“They know this will be the most challenging field they’ll play,” said Borst, who is encouraging her team to stay patient.
Ultimately, Kentucky golf has its collective eyes on SEC powerhouse status. For Borst, who found Lexington, Ky., four years ago after a three-year assistant coaching stint at LSU and four years on the Tennessee roster, the SEC is in her blood. She was part of a 2006 Lady Vol team that came up one shot short of winning the SEC title.
“This is where I always wanted to coach,” she said.
Her passion has begun to pay off.
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GOING DEEP: The Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, which begins today at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head, S.C., has become one of the deepest tournaments on the East Coast, and this year will feature six of the top 10 teams in Golfweek’s rankings – Duke, Stanford, Arizona State, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. South Carolina has been hosting the event since 2012.
In 2013, the Darius Rucker was ranked No. 6 among all women’s golf tournaments for strength of field. On the East Coast, it trailed only the Liz Murphey Fall Preview (which ranked No. 1) in field strength. Alabama has won the event each of the past two years.
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REDEMPTION VICTORY: Entering the final round at the Westbrook Invitational on Feb. 23, Oregon had a nine-shot lead on Ohio State and a probable victory. The Buckeyes would rally that day, however, and flip-flop with Oregon to take the title. A week later, Oregon redeemed itself with a two-shot victory at the Juli Inkster Spartan Classic. Oregon made up crucial ground on runner-up UC Davis in the final three holes to secure that victory.
“I think it showed that we are improving at staying present,” head coach Ria Scott said of the Juli Inkster victory. “We aim to treat each shot the same way, whether it’s at the start of the tournament or the end.”
The Juli Inkster title is also the first for this program since the 2011 Pacific Coast Intercollegiate. It points Oregon, ranked No. 25 by Golfweek, back in the right direction and has Scott’s players believing what’s possible. To Scott, that’s even more important than making a notch in the win column. Oregon has frequently been in contention this season, and has finished inside the top 5 in all but one start.
The Ducks gained considerable strength this season with the addition of Cathleen Santoso, an Australian who has transitioned smoothly to college golf. Santoso won her first collegiate title at the Juli Inkster, and is ranked No. 56 by Golfweek. She and junior Cassy Isagawa, No. 28, lead the Oregon charge.
“(Cathleen) has an incredible head on her and has become an instantly respected leader on our team,” Scott said.
For Oregon and Santoso, the Juli Inkster victory likely will set in motion a very strong spring.
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SHORT SHOTS: Note Pepperdine’s runner-up finish at the Bruin/Wave Invitational on March 4. Notably, the Wave, ranked No. 11 by Golfweek, topped second-ranked UCLA and ninth-ranked Arizona. Pepperdine’s Grace Na and Marissa Chow tied for fourth. . . . UCF junior Fanny Cnops will play the Symetra Tour’s IOA Classic on March 28-30 on a sponsor exemption. Cnops is No. 43 in Golfweek’s rankings. . . . Defending Division II national champion Lynn won the Peggy Kirk Bell Invitational on March 4. It’s one of the top events in Division II.