The NCAA women’s golf championship begins today at the Legends Club, the home course for Vanderbilt – one of seven SEC teams looking to finish the week lifting the trophy. Louisiana State University, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida also are in the field, giving the SEC more teams than any other conference.
“We want to win, and there’s no doubt about that,” Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen said Monday after his Commodores played nine practice holes. “We keep telling them what they accomplished last week is by far more pressure than they’re going to feel this week.”
His players were on the cut line after 18 holes only to rebound and qualify for the championship by finishing second at the Central Regional at Ohio State. They also have senior Marina Alex, a two-time SEC Player of the Year, as they play host to the first Division I national championship ever played in middle Tennessee.
“There’s nothing like this,” Alex said. “We’ve never hosted a regional or an SEC championship, and this is bigger than both of them, so it’s quite an experience.”
The Commodores have plenty of company, with 24 teams competing for the national title led by defending champion UCLA. The Bruins have been the top-ranked program for the longest stretch under coach Carrie Forsyth, and their seven wins in 11 tournaments is best in the country. They finished no worse than runner-up in three other events, and Forsyth has three players ranked among the top 15 by either GolfStat or GolfWeek.
Among the tournaments UCLA won was on this course last September in Vanderbilt’s annual Mason Rudolph Fall Preview by six strokes over Alabama. Forsyth and her Bruins are trying to repeat as champs, something that hasn’t been done since Duke won three in a row from 2005-07.
“We’re really comfortable with the golf course, with the facility,” UCLA junior Tiffany Lua said. “We love the greens. Definitely winning the Fall Preview gave us a confidence boost. We’re just looking to go out there to play one shot at a time.”
They better because Purdue, the 2010 champ, is in the field, along with Duke led by Lindy Duncan, the nation’s top-ranked player. There’s also LSU, a program that finished third a year ago and tied top-seeded UCLA at the West Regional. The Lady
Tigers are led by Austin Ernst, who also is defending the individual championship.
“It’s all about peaking at the right time of the year, and I feel like they’re in a good place,” LSU coach Karen Bahnsen said.