Notebook: Arkansas keeps rolling toward SECs
Friday, March 28, 2014
Lately, the annual LSU Classic has become Arkansas’ tournament to win. An eight-shot victory March 22 at the University Club in Baton Rouge, La., was Arkansas’ second consecutive victory there, its third in the past four years and also the third team title of the season.
With more and more weeks like these, the SEC has been under Razorback control. Arguably one of the deepest women’s golf conferences in the nation (along with the Pac-12), Arkansas carries the best Golfweek/Sagarin ranking of any program in the conference. That includes Alabama, a team that won the 2012 NCAA Championship and was Golfweek's preseason No. 2 squad. The Crimson Tide currently stands No. 12 to Arkansas’ No. 5.
“We’re just really trying to focus on the process of getting better every day,” Arkansas head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said. “The things we can control are how we treat our body, how hard we work on the golf course and in the gym. If we do all of those things well, the results and the rankings and all of those things will take care of themselves.”
The Razorbacks have checked all the boxes, it seems, and the rest is falling into place. It took a long day of golf March 22 in Baton Rouge – the second and third rounds were doubled up with bad weather looming – and that worked to Arkansas’ favor.
“We train for those opportunities in the gym and the way we do things,” Estes-Taylor said. That victory moved the Razorbacks to top 5 in the nation for the first time this season.
Arkansas has been, perhaps, slightly underrated for much of the season. There have been hardly any moving pieces on this team as Emma Lavy and Emily Tubert returned as steady seniors and sophomores Gaby Lopez and Regina Plasencia push from the underclassmen side of the roster. Freshman Summar Roachell easily slid into the open spot, prompting Estes-Taylor to describe team chemistry as the best she’s ever had.
“I expected this out of this group,” Estes-Taylor said. “They’re very seasoned in their golf.”
Just as Arkansas has benefited from the consistency of returners, so have they benefited from consistency in schedule. It’s something Estes-Taylor has worked to bring to their program – consistency, that is, and strength.
The Razorbacks stick to the Southeast. The Puerto Rico Classic, Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. LSU Classic and Liz Murphey Collegiate have become staples on the spring schedule. It’s a lineup with the potential to eat up a team, but Estes-Taylor took the risk.
“Playing a tough schedule, it really prepares us for the end of the year,” she said. “Our girls will have seen pretty much everybody. We’ll be prepared for those competitive moments where hopefully we won’t be intimidated.”
Arkansas next plays the Liz Murphey in Athens, Ga., which will take on a match-play format this year in preparation for the introduction of match play at the 2015 NCAA Championship.
After that, Arkansas enters the SEC Championship in arguably the best position of any team. LPGA player and Razorback alumna Stacy Lewis, No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, will be on the sidelines for that tournament. She’s not only a great tool for the team, but a great cheerleader.
“Their curiosity, I think, is what's so neat,” Estes-Taylor said of her players’ conversations with Lewis. “These girls are so curious as to how she does it.”
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SHORT SHOTS: Stanford sophomore Mariah Stackhouse tees it up this week at the LPGA’s Kia Classic, courtesy of the exemption she earned with her UC Irvine Invitational victory. Stackhouse opened Thursday with 2-over 72. . . . Pepperdine also won a third title for this season at the Anuenue Spring Break Classic in Maui, Hawaii. Senior Grace Na won the individual title, the sixth of her career. . . . Western Carolina claimed its second individual champion of the season (Kristin Swindell) March 24 at the Low Country Invitational. The Catamounts fell three shots short of their third team title of the season and are up to No. 92 in Golfweek's rankings. . . . Daytona State College’s Tiffany Chan won a third consecutive individual title March 25 at the MSU Spring Invitational. Chan also won the James Madison Eagle Landing Invitational and the North Florida Invitational earlier this month.
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Q&A WITH . . . Lindsey Lammers, a Detroit senior who earned her seventh career victory March 25 at the Butler Spring Invitational. Lammers was part of the team that played its way to the NCAA Central Regional last spring for the first time in program history.
When you went into college, did you think seven victories were in your cards?
I never really put an amount on the number of times I wanted to win. It just kind of unfolded that way and I’m just going to keep going out there and try to win some more.
When you look back at those titles, is there one tournament that stands out to you?
Probably my favorite win is the (2012) Horizon League (Championship) after having my surgery and not practicing for a few months. Not being able to practice before I played that tournament and coming out with a win on that was really memorable to me.
You have struggled with both wrists and a sprained ankle, are you back to full health?
Yes, I’m feeling pretty good, but it was really a struggle. Things are looking up.
Did playing through those injuries leave any grooves in your game?
Yes, especially with my wrist, for a long time – probably a year or so – I had a lack of confidence finishing my swing and making impact with the ground for fear of hurting myself again. But now, I’m kind of trying to get back to my old grooves and feeling really confident. My wrist is feeling great so that’s no longer a problem for me. I’m just trying to make good swings at the golf ball.
Last season, nine full-field team victories and a regional berth very nearly made the perfect season. I know the team meshed well and there was a lot of experience and talent. Can that happen again?
I’m not going to say it can never happen again, but last year was definitely a really special year, not only for me but the whole year. The way we just melded together. Everyone just got along so great. Last year was one of the best teams I’ve ever been on. Last year was one of a kind for sure.
What did you learn from playing in an NCAA Regional?
Playing in competition like that was really eye-opening. I didn’t play too well, I put too much pressure on myself and kind of psyched myself out. So I’m looking forward to hopefully getting back there this year and maybe getting some redemption. It’s really great to play against competition like that.