Originally created 10/09/01

Teeing off



Hitting golf balls on the driving range, Kelly McGurk basked in the warm weather.

After calling her mother last week, the Spring Lake, Mich., native realized why she joined the inaugural Augusta State women's golf team.

"We live on the lake (Lake Michigan) and she said it was 37 because they had 25 miles-per-hour winds," McGurk said. "I try and stay away from that. I can handle this (weather). I could get used to this real quick."

Augusta State began its newest sport this fall with six freshmen. The Lady Jaguars placed 10th in the Yale Intercollegiate - the program's first tournament two weeks ago. Lauren Smith, of Fort Mill, S.C., finished third, five shots out of first.

"I was hitting it pretty good and I was pretty pleased with it," she said. "I think we did well as a team for our first tournament."

Augusta State has two tournaments this month before finishing its fall season. The Lady Jaguars will play in four tournaments in 2002 to complete their first year.

The team will not have a chance to qualify for the postseason, however, as the Lady Jaguars must play their first two years on probation. That will keep them ineligible for the postseason until the 2003-04 season.

"It gives our girls two years to prepare themselves for an NCAA Regional bid," said Augusta State head coach Shannon Hanson, a former assistant at Auburn for two seasons who was hired in October 2000. "The freshmen now will play their entire junior year toward achieving that NCAA Regional bid and qualifying for the NCAAs."

The team has another goal: Augusta State is talking about holding a home tournament, possibly as early as next fall.

"With the community supporting us so much, it would give them a chance to be here and see the girls play," Hanson said. "The one bad thing about golf is we only have that one home event."

There are six golfers on the Lady Jaguars' first team. McGurk, Smith, Nicky Perry (Somerset, England), Casey Manion (Glasgow, Ky.) and Kelly Smith (Waycross, Ga.) all made the team's traveling squad for the first tournament. Ashley Phillips (Swansea, Ill.) is fighting for a spot on the squad.

"There's oodles of potential there," Hanson said. "There's a couple of players that some bigger schools didn't take risks on. Luckily, these girls are going to come in and play and achieve that experience they might not get in big tournament play."

Meanwhile, Hanson will experience building a program from the ground up.

"I don't think many coaches in this profession get the opportunity (to start a program," she said. "There are probably four programs starting new. So there are four of us starting from scratch. Out of the four, I probably have the best deal in starting a program. I'm in one of the best golf cities in the world. I have the entire support of the community and the full support of the president of the university."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222 or cag112@hotmail.com.