Tubert leads eager Razorbacks into postseason

Emily Tubert returns for Arkansas this season.

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AUBURN, Ala. – Emily Tubert knows the power of one. At last year’s SEC Championship, she shed a tear when supporters “called the hogs” after host Arkansas lost by one stroke. Weeks later, she was holding her breath around the ninth green at the NCAA Central Regional, the fate of her team’s future in the hands of an Oregon player.

That time, the Razorbacks fell on the right side of one. They squeaked into nationals in their region’s eighth and final position.

“It’s amazing,” said Tubert. “You hit so many golf shots ... hundreds of shots over three days with five girls, and it comes down to one.”

On Thursday, 72 teams at three regional sites will try to qualify for the 24-team NCAA Championship in Athens, Ga. It’s an odd 54-hole event in that more attention is paid to the team that finishes eighth rather than first. Eight teams advance from each site.

Arkansas is the No. 2 seed in a solid NCAA East Regional field. Tubert, noting the depth of this year’s team, expects to battle at the top of this year’s leaderboard against top-seeded Alabama, the 2012 NCAA champion.

Tubert’s final-round performance last year in their battle for the last spot, however, is worth revisiting. She eagled two par 5s on her front side to make the turn in 5 under. She shot a final-round 68 at Ohio State’s home track to help her team climb from a dismal starting position of 12th place.

“I was really proud of the way this group fought,” Tubert said. “We were really tenacious.”

Arkansas, No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, is making its 12th NCAA Regional appearance. The Razorbacks have advanced five times, including in 2011 and ’12.

Much of Arkansas’ success can be traced back to Stacy Lewis, the recent World No. 1 and 2007 NCAA champion. Lewis won 12 times while at Arkansas and in four years, her score counted every single round of every single tournament.

Lewis traveled to the Bryan National Collegiate in March to watch her beloved Razorbacks compete. Head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor said her players stood in awe as they watched Lewis hit balls on the range.

She told her players: “Hey, we’re doing all the right things and this is a great pathway to the future of professional golf.”

It’s tough to argue the living proof.

Behind Lewis in nearly every individual record at Arkansas is Tubert, the junior from California whose Hollywood dad loves to loop during the summer months, and fly fish his way around the women’s amateur circuit. It’s easy to see where Tubert gets her zest.

Tubert actually owns a slight advantage over Lewis in career scoring average, with 72.60. Lewis, who obviously had more rounds, left at 73.24.

It’s rare that Tubert finds a college player who consistently outdrives her. But, as Lewis has shown on the LPGA, success at the next level requires a hot putter. Tubert has another year left at Arkansas to prepare.

The depth Tubert speaks of at Arkansas comes in large part from two freshmen from Mexico: Gaby Lopez and Regina Plasencia. Lopez, winner of the Westbrook Invitational, has four top-5 finishes in her first year. Her final-round 66 at Westbrook tied a school record. Both Plasencia and Lopez have played in 10 events this season.

“They truly have a pure passion for the game,” said Estes-Taylor of her eager frosh.

After senior Victoria Vela finished up her last final exam at 9:20 a.m. on Tuesday, the team was on the bus at 9:30 a.m. and headed to the airport.

“I’m so glad that’s behind us and all we have to do is focus on golf,” said Estes-Taylor.

The Razorbacks know that over the next three rounds they can’t let up. Not even once.

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