All hands on deck for Texas A&M's Maddie Szeryk, other individuals at NCAA Championship

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All hands on deck for Texas A&M's Maddie Szeryk, other individuals at NCAA Championship

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All hands on deck for Texas A&M's Maddie Szeryk, other individuals at NCAA Championship

STILLWATER, Okla. – For players competing as individuals at the NCAA Championship, not one but two coaches often walk with them every step of the way. What’s considered a luxury to some players might be a distraction to others. The amount of input given is up to, well, individual tastes. 

But one thing is certain: It’s a distinct advantage. 

“My wife might agree with that too,” said Houston coach Gerrod Chadwell, who is married to Stacy Lewis, a 12-time LPGA winner who won the 2007 NCAA title while competing as an individual.

It’s especially true at a place like Karsten Creek, where managing the wind, emotions and penal rough requires added brain power. Several highly-ranked players have already come down with a case of the three-putts at Karsten. Having a coach around can help minimize those nosedives. 

Five players who are competing without their teams are inside the top 20 after two rounds in Stillwater, Okla. Texas A&M’s Maddie Szeryk leads the way at 1-under 143, four strokes behind leaders Cheyenne Knight of Alabama and Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan. 

Aggie coach Trelle McCombs was heavily involved in Szeryk’s opening 73, but backed off on Day 2, capturing the highlights with video instead. Szeryk called her in to check on the wind direction on the 17th, but that was about it. For much of the season Szeryk played without much assistance from coaches, preferring they help the younger players instead. At Karsten, they decided to go back to what has worked the rest of the season in the second round. McCombs told her top player: “You’ve made 1,000 putts without me.”

“This is what I told people,” said McCombs. “Today, I’m the bus driver, I’m the social media coordinator, I’m the lunch lady.” 

Chadwell and Leonie Harm have done this routine before. Harm first qualified for NCAAs as a freshman in 2016 by accident, she said, having no idea how such things worked. Chadwell walked alongside Harm during the round but weighed in mostly around the greens.

“He’s a phenomenal short-game player and green reader,” said Harm. It helps that Chadwell grew up on Bentgrass. 

Harm qualified for this year’s championship by posting a final-round 65 at the Austin regional and then won a seven-hole playoff. She’d heard horror stories about Karsten from older brother Steffen, who played his final college event here for VCU, well before she was slated to come to NCAAs to compete.

“I came here with a huge portion of respect,” said Harm.

Georgia’s Jillian Hollis, one of four individual players in a tie for 13th, is loving all the attention she’s getting this week. Head coach Josh Brewer walks the fairways with Hollis but doesn’t help her on the greens. Hollis, a feel player, prefers to read her own putts. She insisted that assistant coach Mimi Burke come along for moral support.

Georgia’s Jillian Hollis (Steven Colquitt)

The individual with the most support this week has to be Emma Broze, the only Oklahoma State player competing at Karsten. There’s no caddying from OSU coaches this week. Broze, who has plenty of course knowledge, is the self-sufficient type. Head coach Courtney Jones and assistant Par Nilsson alternate between tending the flag or maybe raking a bunker. But mostly they let their senior from France handle it the way she has all season.

“She knows her game,” said Jones.

The Cowgirls missed out on advancing as a team by one stroke, with Broze needing to hole out from the fairway on the final hole in San Francisco. Instead, she drained an 18-footer for birdie on the 54th to hole get into a playoff, and then drained a 10-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole.

It was heart-breaking, particularly with three seniors, to miss out on competing for a national title on home soil.

“I don’t know if you’re ever over it,” said Jones.

But they are looking forward, especially to the next two days. Several of Broze’s teammates have driven back to Stillwater to support her. Broze slipped to a 74 on Saturday but sits at a respectable 3 over.

As for Harms, she was off to get ice cream. That’s another added benefit of coming to nationals solo: No debating over what’s for dinner.

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