ANNIKA Award Watch List: May 2, 2014
As the spring season progresses, Golfweek is monitoring the race for the inaugural ANNIKA Award presented by 3M. The award is presented to the best female college player, as voted on by players, coaches and select media. An update will be posted each Friday on Golfweek.com. If you’d like to register to be a voter, click here.
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It’s no wonder Gaby Lopez has excelled in two years on the Arkansas roster. Signing on the dotted line for head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor back in 2012 is what Lopez calls the best decision of her life.
Being in that comfort zone has translated into steady, world-beating golf for Lopez, a sophomore from Mexico City, Mexico. Even amid cramming for finals and last-minute preparations for NCAA regionals, Lopez’s voice comes across the phone with pep.
“I have nothing to lose,” Lopez said of college golf. She plays with passion.
Lopez has led the Razorbacks in scoring this season with a 71.45 average. That’s helped Arkansas to a three-victory season, and a No. 5 ranking by Golfweek, the best in the SEC. With a tie for second at the SEC Championship on April 20, Lopez climbed to No. 2 in Golfweek’s rankings.
Every part of Lopez’s game is peaking entering the heart of the postseason, and her head is also in the right place. In the weeks between the SEC Championship and the NCCA Central Regional, where Arkansas will play with the No. 2 seed, Lopez is only focusing on maintaining her game. It’s something swing coach Horacio Morales has taught her to do.
Lopez doesn’t like to practice technique before tournaments, so she instead concentrates on “creating sensations to bring to the course.” Lopez is a feel player who remains keenly aware of what her swing is doing and what it feels like when she is playing well. She has learned to call upon those feelings when she needs them. Lopez won the LSU Golf Classic in a playoff, and had two other top-3 finishes before that.
Lopez took a leadership role on this team earlier than she might have expected. Still, she views her job as very individual – play her best game each time she tees it up.
“That’s what my past teammates and Emily (Tubert) and Emma (Lavy) have shown me to do,” she said.
Estes-Taylor has called this Razorback team one of the best in team dynamic she’s ever coached. Lopez and fellow Mexican Regina Plasencia are a big reason for that. Lopez and Plascencia, also a sophomore, have played golf together since they were 11 years old. They dicussed going to the same college but once Lopez made a trip to Fayetteville, and had a deep conversation with Tubert, she knew she wouldn’t be happy anywhere else.
“She was the one who pulled the trigger for me,” Lopez said of Tubert, now a senior. A few weeks later, Plasencia signed with the Razorbacks, too.
It’s a major reason Lopez feels so at peace in college.
“She’s my best friend,” Lopez said of Plasencia. “Shauna is my second mom.”
And Lopez has brought plenty of joy, too.
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Other notable players and performances:
Alison Lee, UCLA
Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 1
In a few words: Won the Pac-12 individual title by three shots for her third career victory as a freshman. Lee makes a strong case for Player of the Year honors with this body of work.
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Yu Liu, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 3
In a few words: A very steady effort at her first ACC Championship led to a top-5 finish there. Her biggest competition these days may come from teammate Celine Boutier.
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Annie Park, USC
Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 4
In a few words: A final-round 77 at the Pac-12 Championship moved Park down to a tie for seventh, but there is still a lot of postseason golf to be played.
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Celine Boutier, Duke
Golfweek/Sagarin College Ranking: 6
In a few words: The ACC individual title is her third consecutive this season. Boutier is peaking harder than any player entering the postseason, which is a great thing for Duke.