Maria Fassi in position to win national championship on home course

NCAA Women's Arkansas Walt Beazley/Razorbacks Athletics Communications

Maria Fassi in position to win national championship on home course

College

Maria Fassi in position to win national championship on home course

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – This isn’t Augusta National. No Amen Corner. No pimento cheese. The crowd on Monday won’t rival an LPGA major. The winner won’t appear on “The Tonight Show.”

But a win on Monday at the Blessings would feel like heaven to Maria Fassi. Because this is home, or as one coach dubbed it – Fassi-ville. The Fassi Posse should be out in full force on Monday as the Arkansas senior vies for a national title.

“I always say this is Maria Fassi’s perfect environment,” said head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor. “I think she loves the challenges and the spotlight. The bigger the stage the bigger the player, you’ll see.”

Fassi, runner-up at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur last month, reached the par-5 seventh in two on Sunday with a 6-iron and knocked in the 20-footer for eagle to get within one of leader Sierra Brooks of Florida. Brooks’ 6-under 67 puts her at 4-under 132 for the championship, which has been shortened to 54 holes due to weather. The pair played alongside each other for the first two rounds.

“She plays a different golf course,” said Brooks. “I’m just trying to stick to my game playing with her.”

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Arkansas senior Maria Fassi at the 2019 NCAA women’s golf championships. Photo: Beth Ann Nichols/Golfweek

Arizona senior Bianca Pagdanganan finished runner-up at last year’s NCAA Championship and helped propel the Wildcats to the team championship. She’s also one off the pace, knotted with Fassi at 143.

Fassi will tell you all day long it’s all about the team this week, and her Razorbacks are in prime position to make it to match play, sitting in a share of fourth as the afternoon wave completes Round 2. The top eight teams after 54 holes advance to match play, something Arkansas has yet to accomplish since the format was changed in 2015.

Razorback senior Kaylee Benton has an outside chance to join the party. She’s five shots back in a share of sixth in the individual race.

“Since this thing was announced two years ago we’ve been preparing for this week, by media, by trying to get out on the course in different conditions,” said Estes-Taylor. “We’ve only played from the bunkers for one day; we’ve tried to make sure they’ve hit all the shots. When you know something, you find comfort in it and don’t panic on a golf course like this.”

Despite all the prep work though, Fassi said they’ve never seen the golf course play this tough. Her length, she says, is a particular advantage here. Estes-Taylor said Fassi could hit wedges into 15 of the holes.

“I can drive it over some bunkers that people are just trying to go around,” she said, “and for me they’re not even in play.”

She has more options, not to mention more experience with the Blessings’ large green complexes. If the putts start to drop, it could be a “woo pig” bonzanza.

Fassi was voted last year’s ANNIKA Award winner but she’ll likely have to win the NCAA title to get the nod a second time. Players, coaches and media vote on the award, and it’s likely that the ANWA results have factored into this year’s vote, even though it’s not a college event.

Jennifer Kupcho’s 78-76 performance in Arkansas, however, makes it tough to justify that vote given that top-ranked Kinhult has a 5-0 record against her this season. Kinhult, a freshman at Florida State, has won twice and never finished worse than 13th.

Fassi recently won the SEC title and is 2-1 against Kinhult head-to-head. Kinhult’s strength of schedule rating for the season is 45th while Fassi’s is 22nd.

Fassi expects some of classmates and professors to come out on Monday to show support. Pagdanganan has five family members on hand this week, which is still more than most.

This is the reason Fassi came back for her last semester of college, deferring her LPGA card for six months to bring back a national title for her beloved Razorbacks. Stacy Lewis, winner of the 2007 NCAA title and a member of the Blessings, was on hand earlier this week to show her support. She’ll be tuning in to Golf Channel back home in Texas as Fassi tries to give Arkansas its second individual title.

Big things lie ahead for Mexico’s latest burgeoning star. But tomorrow could be something really special.

“This is hog heaven,” said Estes-Taylor.


     

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