ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – Alexandra Phelps watched a little TV at her parents’ house Monday afternoon and then lounged by the pool. “I can’t believe I’m at nationals now,” Phelps thought to herself. She’s playing her last college event, the NCAA Championship, in her hometown. With no teammates.
And here’s the kicker: She posted the lowest round of her career to get things started.
“I felt very calm and relaxed today, which I wasn’t exactly expecting with all the pressure,” said Phelps, who shot 3-under 69 and is tied for second a shot behind Wake Forest’s Nannette Hill.
Did we mention she’s ranked 130th by Golfweek and is the Lobos’ No. 3 player?
This isn’t the way any of the Lobos imagined the week would unfold.
They were supposed to be playing on the University of New Mexico’s Championship Golf Course as a team – as in five players. Team dinners, team meetings, team standings.
At the NCAA East Regional two weeks ago, Phelps drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole to reportedly send her team to the Big Dance. Her teammates rushed to the green and showered Phelps with hugs. They cried tears of joy.
Several minutes later, they were victims of bad math. The Lobos missed out on an NCAA berth by one shot. Phelps advanced as individual.
“We were very heartbroken,” said Phelps, who birdied three of her last six holes that final round.
Most of the Lobos flew home for the summer after regionals. Only two players were in the gallery Tuesday to watch Phelps break 70 for the first time in competition.
And it could’ve been even lower. Phelps had it to 5 under through 14 holes before things started getting shaky. After bogeying the seventh hole (her 16th), Phelps four-putted the eighth to drop to 2 under. She rebounded nicely with a birdie on the last and walked away all smiles.
“I made so many good putts today,” said Phelps, who needed 29 total. “And I always feel like golf evens out.”
This is a new and improved Phelps, thanks to prayer and meditation. Lately she’s been working on relaxation techniques to keep her calm in pressure situations. So far so good.
Since Phelps is playing as an individual this week, she gets her coach’s undivided attention on every shot. Coach Jill Trujillo advised her to club down most of the day since adrenaline kicked in early.
Trujillo has waited four years for Phelps to make a break through. The last semester of college seems like an ideal time. The communications major finished T-4 twice in her last four college events. Prior to this spring, she’d never cracked the top 8.
Phelps credits her late-year surge to solid putting. Aside from the four-putt, where Phelps heard cameras clicking around the green and temporarily lost focus, she’s remained steady with the flat stick.
After this week, Phelps will bow out of competitive golf for the foreseeable future. With no desire to turn pro, she will begin working on an MBA at New Mexico and hopes to land a “real job.” This is it.
Phelps’ main objective at the NCAA Championship was to have fun. That’s easy to do when you make seven birdies.
The wind is projected to blow 30 mph during the second round and Phelps is more than ready to meet the challenge. In terms of experience, no one in this field knows how to battle Albuquerque winds better than Phelps.
“It’s not like our weather is horrible,” said Trujillo. “But there are certain times of year – like California and the Santa Ana winds – that we get that wind.”
Phelps knows the wind is at its worst in the spring. Blow wind, blow, she must be thinking. As the course dries out over the next several days and the greens get faster, Phelps enjoys a distinct advantage.
“This is like a walk around her block,” Trujillo said. “She knows all the houses and her neighbors.”
There’s no place like home. Even if you’re home alone.