Alabama holds on for 3-shot Gator Women's victory
PHOTOS: SunTrust Gator Women's Invite (Rd. 2)
View images of the 41st-annual SunTrust Gator Women's Invitational at Mark Bostick Golf Course.
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Alabama has the win-by-a-nose bit down. Sixty percent of this roster knows first-hand that the national championship can come down to just that. It’s how Alabama won its first national title last spring – the tournament came down to the last player on the course.
A three-shot victory at the Gator Women’s Invitational on Sunday amounted to a second victory in as many weeks for the Crimson Tide, and both had a hold-your-breath quality. Alabama last week won the Darius Rucker Invitational after rallying past Vanderbilt and LSU in the final round. This week, Alabama lost then rebuilt its lead from the second round.
Halfway through the Gator final round, Alabama has slipped into third place behind Oklahoma and Florida. Those three teams traded the lead for much of the next two hours, even though head coach Mic Potter isn’t sure his players were aware of it.
“As happened today, we got off to a bad start but they know that they’re talented golfers and if they hang in there, continue to do what they know is right, it’s going to turn around for them,” Potter said. “I think if we were concerned or aware of our situation all the time, they wouldn’t be able to do that. It has to be about the next shot for us.”
Potter isn’t worried about identifying certain teams and players to beat. He wants his players to instead focus on the shot at hand.
“I think they’re realizing now if you do that truly, you always have a chance,” Potter said.
Still, on a cloudy afternoon in Gainesville, the fact remained that Alabama, ranked No. 4 by Golfweek, had gone toe-to-toe with the No. 3 (Oklahoma) and No. 7 (Florida) teams in the nation and had come out on top. It’s the third team title for Alabama this season, but the Crimson Tide also lost a scorecard playoff to Florida at a fourth tournament, the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational.
While two-thirds of the Alabama roster returned from last year’s national championship team, the biggest factor in the Crimson Tide’s recent success might be the youngsters. Sophomore Daniela Lendl has come on strong this spring, and freshman Emma Talley is living up to high expectations after a distinguished junior golf career.
“They know everybody in the lineup has a chance to do well. It takes a lot of pressure off of them,” Potter said. “... That helps our mentality and our psyche a lot.”
In Gainesville, junior Stephanie Meadow led the team with a T-4 finish. For the second consecutive week, Talley was the second-lowest Crimson Tide player. She finished three shots behind Meadow, in a share of ninth.
If depth helps the Alabama psyche, then so should keeping the focus off wins and losses. Even as the victories pile up for Alabama, Potter wants to see his team continue to improve without worrying so much about results.
Meadow, who carries the lowest Alabama scoring average, also was more focused on quality of play at the end of a cloudy final round.
“We technically had the lead today, but when I came through nine we were behind, so it feels like two comeback victories in a row, so that’s pretty huge,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I still feel like we could have done a lot better. We won, but we have so much talent on this team, we could definitely be a lot better. It’s good to win and still have the potential to be better.”
Meadow, ranked No. 5 individually by Golfweek, is gearing up for her third major start next month. She was one of five collegians to receive one of the coveted sponsor exemptions reserved for amateurs at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first LPGA major.
Florida’s Camilla Hedberg and Isabelle Lendl also will be in that field. Both players finished in the top 20 at their home event. It was the first time in the past three years the Gators have not won their own invitational.
As for runner-up Oklahoma, the Gator Invitational produced a second silver medal to go along with three golds already earned this season. Defending NCAA individual champion Chirapat Jao-Javanil won the individual title by five shots.
Two of Oklahoma’s team titles came courtesy of blowout victories. The team’s No. 3 ranking is the best in program history.
“These girls, mainly they’re juniors that play out here,” said head-coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell. “From Day 1 when I got the job, I’ve been pushing them to being one of the best teams in the country.”
The results support the ranking.