Wind dominates NCAA women's championship's 1st round

Lauren Kim of Stanford during the first round of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women's Championship in Tulsa, Okla.

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1SooBin KimWashington  65.91 
2Alison LeeUCLA  68.50 
3Annie ParkUSC  68.55 
4Leona MaguireDuke  69.18 
5Celine BoutierDuke  69.53 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Washington 70.16 
2South Carolina 70.57 
3Duke 71.13 
4Arkansas 71.62 
5Mississippi State 71.64 

TULSA, Okla. – Lauren Kim might as well have been in California on Tuesday, windy as it was at Tulsa Country Club. Kim is one of eight players in the NCAA Women’s Championship field who fought similarly strong wind gusts six days ago at U.S. Women’s Open local qualifying in Beaumont, Calif.

“The wind was probably twice as strong as it was here,” said Kim, a Stanford sophomore. She missed qualifying for that other national championship by six shots.

Tulsa produced what it’s known for on the opening morning of the NCAA finals. The first wave of players fought wind gusts of up to 26 mph when rounds began at 7:30 a.m., and winds were forecast to become stronger as the day wore on. It’s Tulsa Country Club’s best defense, and it kept scores at or over par through the morning wave. UNLV’s Dana Finkelstein even aced the par-3 sixth, but still finished her round at 5-over 75, playing as an individual.

Kim and Denver senior Tonje Daffinrud, also playing as an individual, posted rounds of 3-under 67 for the clubhouse lead. For Kim, it was 11 shots better than the pair of 78s she posted in Beaumont. Tulsa is a long course, but Kim, a self-proclaimed short hitter, was able to score with help from a tail wind, when she got it, and a strong short game. She hit 13 greens, had four birdies and one bogey.

“I’d say I’m pretty good at getting it up and down,” she said.

Kim led Stanford to an opening round of 20-over 300, which was the third-best score among the 12 teams in the morning wave. Arizona had the clubhouse lead at 18 over. Ohio State was next at 19 over.

The NCAA Championship is a 72-hole marathon, which could be one reason Kim was so calm after her first 18 holes. She’s an understated player who has posted at least a share of Stanford’s low score four times this season. Kim was runner-up at the Peg Barnard Invitational and the San Diego State Farms Invitational.

When she gets back to Stanford next week to finish the spring quarter, Kim will officially declare a major in science technology and society. It sets her up for a potential Silicon Valley job if golf doesn’t work out.

On the other end of the student-athlete spectrum, Daffinrud has only to don a cap and gown when she returns to Denver. Kim is just finding her stride, but Daffinrud is the picture of what that finished product can look like.

The Norwegian came to Denver looking for the freedom to play and practice as she chose. Four seasons on the Pioneer roster brought Daffinrud out of her shell. Surprisingly enough, this week marks the first national championship of her career. It could be a good thing – the senior isn’t sure she would have been ready for this stage three years ago.

Daffinrud’s development into a top-25 player has been a process. After her sophomore season, she became so frustrated that she decided to spend three weeks away from golf when she went home to Norway for the summer. She spent time with her dad boating, hung out with friends and found she was mostly fighting boredom. After enlisting the help of a mental coach, Daffinrud was ready to dive in again.

As part of her new golf persona, Daffinrud has become very adept at visualization, and pictures everything about the way she plays the game, right down to what she’ll wear the next day. Daffinrud has almost reached a level of concentration that allows her to watch herself play golf in her own head.

“That also gave me more confidence when I got to tournaments,” she said. She finished in the top 5 six times this season.

With the chance to focus on just one player, Denver head coach Lindsay Kuhle is getting new perspective on Daffinrud this week. The two talked over shots the day before the first round, and Daffinrud treated it like any other day of competition. It’s one reason she felt better prepared and better able to score than competitors.

“She’s really good at analyzing her game,” Kuhle said of Daffinrud. “She knows exactly what she’s going to do each week. I know she’s going to put in more hours than I would ever ask of her.”

Daffinrud birdied the 10th to open her round on Tuesday, then doubled the 11th because of a mental error. Daffinrud forgot to ask an opponent to mark her ball as Daffinrud hit onto the green. Her ball hit the one already there and ricocheted farther away from the hole, which resulted in a three-putt.

Kuhle couldn’t even tell it made her upset, and that will serve Daffinrud well in the next phase of life and golf. Eventually, like many players, she hopes for an LPGA career. In the immediate future, however, she’s taking advantage of her parents’ second home at Mar Menor Resort in Alicante, Spain. There’s an abundance of golf in that region, so it’s where Daffinrud will play and practice as she strives to get a career on the Ladies European Tour off the ground.

“I really love to compete,” Daffinrud said. “It’s my favorite thing just to be out here with the best competition in the country.”

It will take more than a little breeze to dampen that spirit.

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