College Women

Sooners strike early at NCAA D-I women's championship

Oklahoma's Alexandra Kaui during Tuesday's first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Championship in Tulsa, Okla
Oklahoma's Alexandra Kaui during Tuesday's first round of the NCAA Division I Women's Championship in Tulsa, Okla ( Tracy Wilcox )

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TULSA, Okla. – After Tulsa Country Club, the Sooners had a likely date at P.F. Chang’s restaurant. It will be a quick turnaround between Rounds 1 and 2 of the NCAA Championship, and by the time Oklahoma returns to the course Tuesday morning, it could be a different ballgame.

High winds blistered scorecards across the board in the first round, and Oklahoma took advantage of those familiar conditions. The Sooners come from only 120 miles away, though senior Chirapat Jao-Javanil says that can make as much as 10 mph difference.

Regardless, Oklahoma’s 8-over 288 on Tuesday gave the team a three-shot advantage on UCLA, and a five-shot edge on Duke, USC and Arizona State. The Sooners just never got down.

“It can be distracting,” UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth said of the wind. “If you get a litlte bit behind, you don’t know where you going to make it up.”

To hold off the traditional contenders in women’s golf, a sport where very few programs have felt the wealth over the years, is no small accomplishment for Oklahoma. In a 72-hole tournament, head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell knew her team had to take the gift.

“You have to take advantage of days like this for us,” she said. Weather forecasts suggested Tuesday might be the windiest day of the week.

Drouin-Luttrell didn’t look at the leaderboard all day. She let a senior-heavy team just play, knowing they needed little more pushing than the realization that this is it at Oklahoma. The four seniors designed their Big 12 Championship rings days before coming here, and they adorned their hats with homemade ball markers (featuring red rhinestones and puff paint) made by Drouin-Luttrell.

“I still don’t realize that I’m not coming back in August,” senior Anne-Catherine Tanguay said. “It just hasn’t hit me yet.”

Four years ago, Tanguay, Jao-Javanil and Collins bought into Drouin-Luttrell’s forward plan for the program. Two years after that, Katilyn Rohrback transferred from Tennessee, becoming a reliable No. 4 player for the Sooners. Oklahoma climbed as high as No. 2 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings last season. This team has set and reset program scoring records, and won the conference championship twice.

Two years ago, Jao-Javanil even won the individual title at the national championship. It was a first for Sooner golf. She remembers playing down the ninth green that year, her final hole, and not really knowing what was going on. Two years later, it’s not even the most memorable part of this Thailand transplant’s time in Norman, Okla. Winning the Big 12 tournament (as an individual and as a team) last month gets that distinction.

“It’s always so much better when you win and the team wins,” she said.

Oklahoma was Golfweek’s preseason No. 5 team in the fall, and finished third, second, second, first in the first half of the season. In the spring, however, Oklahoma stumbled with finishes of eighth, ninth and 11th. Drouin-Luttrell says it was a result of changing practice regimens – more practicing, less playing. After those finishes, a Big 12 title was a relief, and a sign that things were back on track.

“The whole season, we went through some down and we came back up,” Tanguay said.

The Canadian posted an even-par 70 for Oklahoma on Tuesday, and Jao-Javanil added 2-over 72. Lone freshman Alexandra Kaui, who came to Oklahoma all the way from Hawaii, led with 2-under 68, which put her just one shot off the lead.

Kaui eagerly took the media podium with Drouin-Luttrell and Tanguay after the round. Asked various questions about the wind, she tried to describe punch shots she hit throughout the day, and very seriously searched for a way to communicate her trademark “feeler shot.”

“We call it the Hawaiian Punch,” Drouin-Luttrell joked.

Kaui has given the seniors an infusion of spunk this semester, and is a vital component of a team whose potential in Tulsa is hard to judge. Perhaps the rest of the field is seeing what Drouin-Luttrell saw years ago.

“They believed in what I’ve wanted to do from Day 1,” she said.

The Sooners have never finished better than sixth at the national championship. There’s still time for one more record on these senior resumes and just maybe, one more ring.