College Women

Defending champ USC trails Oklahoma in NCAAs

Oklahoma's Alexandra Kaui
Oklahoma's Alexandra Kaui ( Tracy Wilcox )

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

TULSA, Okla. – After watching USC play hide-and-seek at the NCAA Women’s Championship a year ago – and knowing that the Trojans have had the type of season that suggests something similar could happen again this week at Tulsa Country Club – it’s now obvious we have reason to stay glued to the action.

At the halfway point of this year’s NCAA finals, USC has settled into a come-from-behind position rather than setting the pace. The lead belongs to a seasoned Oklahoma squad that features four seniors. Lone Sooner freshman Alexandra Kaui has the individual lead at 5-under 135.

The Sooners have twice made the trip around this 1920 A.W. Tillinghast design and stand at 15-over 575, three shots clear of five-time NCAA champion Duke.

At this point in a golf tournament, the usual question is whether the leaders can hang on or if a team will come from behind. The feeling here this week, however, is that many teams have an opportunity to win. Many coaches must be thinking, “How can we be successful and get in the mix to win?”

In golf, a team can’t play defense against its opponents, and the real opponent this week is the par-70, 6,194-yard Tulsa Country Club. That, and gusting winds.

There isn’t a lot of separation on the leaderboard at this point, and teams don’t seem to be too worried about what any other team is doing. Instead, the post-round discussions are all about the importance of game plan – or adjustments to it. That’s not anything out of the ordinary, but there seems to be extra emphasis on strategy this week.

The biggest attention getter is the wind, which has made an already pressure-packed week even more intense. It might explain why Oklahoma, which has the most practice in these elements, has the lead.

“They play in this stuff, they play in the wind,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “I’m sure every day the wind has been 30 mph in the last year and (Oklahoma head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell) has dragged them out to the golf course. She obviously has them prepared very well.”

The wind has been constant, and finding a way to deal with it is a challenge any player will have to overcome in order to help her team to victory this week. Patience is something else players and coaches have been talking about this week.

“You have to be really, really patient,” said Arizona State junior Noemi Jimenez, who is ranked No. 3 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “You have to be calm.”

Alabama head coach Mic Potter also used that word, but went on to talk about something else commonly heard at the national championship.

“If you put the ball in play, you have a chance,” he said. “The greens are perfect and you can make putts. You have to be patient. Everybody is going to have to get the ball back in position after a bad tee shot at one point or another. How well you do that and how much you can accept giving yourself a chance to make par and accepting a bogey and moving on is a big factor.”

The rough is not extremely deep, but it is important to put the ball in the correct place depending on the type of shot needed to approach the green.

“Driving the ball off the tee is critical. It’s not that the rough is particularly thick; you just need to be in the right position on certain holes,” Mississippi State coach Ginger Brown-Lemm said.

Thirty-six holes remain and the scouting report is complete. The game plan is set. Which team can stay on track, limit the big numbers and have a chance at winning the national championship?