The college golf season resumed this weekend with the ultimate goal a trip to the NCAA Championship final at the Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. in May.
There may not be a better field for the women than the one that teed off in the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge, hosted by Ohio State, Sunday until the NCAA Championship. Eight of the top 10 women in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking were in the field that teed it up at Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes, Calif. Four of the top-five teams in the latest Golfstat rankings are in the field.
It’s almost like NASCAR, a circuit which crowns a champion at the end of the season but opens its season with the Super Bowl of stock car auto racing, next week’s Daytona 500. It’s a little weird, but it works.
The No. 6 team in the country coming into the spring campaign, reigning national champion Arizona State, and in-state rival Arizona, ranked 39th, got things going as each posted a 1-over-par 285 over the 6,017-yard, Palos Verdes layout to share the opening-round lead.
There are some seriously talented teams in this loaded 18-team field chasing them. No. 1 UCLA and No. 3 Alabama share third place, seven shots behind the co-leaders at 8-over 292. No. 12 Northwestern, which lost to Arizona State in the NCAA Championship’s Final Match last spring at Rich Harvest Farms, is alone in fifth place, another shot behind UCLA and Alabama at 9-over 293.
No. 5 Stanford and No. 11 Southern California are tied for sixth at 295. By the way, the Pac-12 Championship might be a little contentious this spring since Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, Southern Cal and Stanford will all be battling for the title that UCLA won a year ago.
Reigning Southeast Conference champion Florida, ranked 18th, is eighth at 296. No. 2 Duke, the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion, and No. 25 Washington – yet another Pac-12 power -- are tied for ninth at 297. And No. 10 Texas, the reigning Big 12 champion, is 11th at 298. The Longhorns are playing without reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert, a senior from Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Leading the way for the Sun Devils and sitting atop the individual leaderboard is Olivia Mehaffey, a sophomore from Ireland and a member of Great Britain & Ireland’s winning 2016 Curtis Cup side. Mehaffey fired a 3-under 68 and holds a one-shot lead over a trio of talented players.
That group is led by Alabama’s Kristen Gillman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas and the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. Gillman is No. 9 in the latest Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Gillman is joined at 2-under 69 by one of the many fabulous freshmen around the country this year, Texas’ Kaitlyn Papp, like Gillman an Austin, Texas product, and Baylor’s Garleen Kaur, a freshman from Houston.
Backing up Mehaffey for Arizona State is Madison Kerley, a junior from Phoenix who is in a group tied for eighth at even-par 71. The Sun Devils got a pair of 2-over 73s from Sophia Zeeb, a senior from Germany, and Roberta Liti, a senior from Italy, which leaves them in a group tied for 19th as all four Arizona State counters ended up inside the top 20.
Rounding out the Arizona State lineup is Raquel Olmos Ros, a freshman from Spain who is tied for 75th with a 79. The Sun Devils lost one of their top players during the midseason break as Swede Linnea Strom turned pro.
Arizona was led by Haley Moore, a junior from Escondido, Calif. who is one of the top individual talents in the country. Moore fired a 1-under 70 to share fifth place with UCLA’s Beth Wu, a junior from Diamond Bar, Calif. and a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team, and Oklahoma State’s Chih-Min Chen, a junior from Taiwan.
Backing up Moore for the Wildcats is Gigi Stoll, a junior from Tigard, Ore. who is in the group tied for eighth at even-par 71. Teammates Bianca Pagdanganan, a junior from the Philippines, and Yu-Sang Hou, a freshman from Taiwan, a shot behind Stoll in a group tied for 14th at 1-over 72. The Wildcats’ four counters were all among the top 15 in the individual standings.
Rounding out the Arizona lineup is Sandra Nordaas, a sophomore from Norway who carded a 75 and is in a group tied for 39th.
There are a ton of storylines playing out in Palos Verdes, but I thought I’d give a shout-out to Duke senior Lisa Maguire. The native of Ireland has struggled at Duke while twin sister Leona Maguire has risen to the top of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
But Sunday Lisa claimed low-Maguire honors with a 3-over 74 that left her in the group tied for 32nd. Leona Maguire was another shot back at 4-over 75 in the group tied for 39th.
Leona Maguire received the Annika Award that goes to the top player in Division I women’s golf for the second time in her brilliant collegiate career last year. She’s back for her senior season because she wants to be part of an NCAA team championship with the Blue Devils. She’ll need her twin sister’s help to accomplish that goal.
Meanwhile in Puerto Rico, the one top-five team in the latest Golfstat rankings that is not at the Northrup Grumman, No. 4 Arkansas, grabbed an eight-shot lead following the opening round of the Lady Puerto Rico Classic at Rio Mar Country Club’s Ocean Course Sunday.
It is the 16th year that Purdue has hosted the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, but something tells me it is the most important edition the event has ever had. Not for the players and the teams, but for the island.
I can’t really find anything to back this up, but I’m guessing that this event keeping its spot on the calendar is a very important step toward some semblance of normalcy on an island devastated by Hurricane Maria and largely forgotten by its country. If the players found their welcome especially warm in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, that’s probably why.
On the golf course, the Razorbacks, led by their star Maria Fassi, a junior from Mexico, matched par at the 5,981-yard, par-71 Rio Mar layout with a 284 total.
No. 22 Kent State is alone in second place at 8-over 292, No. 26 Iowa State is third at 12-over 296, No. 65 Texas Christian is fourth at 297 and No. 43 North Carolina State is fifth at 299.
Purdue is the second-highest ranked team in the field at 17th, but the Boilermakers struggled and are last in the field of 11 at 312. It looks like Purdue is without one of its top players in Covadonga SanJuan, a junior from Spain, but expect the Boilermakers to move up the leaderboard in Monday’s second round.
Fassi tamed the Rio Mar course, and reportedly some windy conditions, for a 3-under 68, the only under-par round of the day. Fassi’s teammate Dylan Kim, a junior from Plano, Texas, is one of four players who matched par with a 71 to share second place.
Kim was joined at that figure by two Kent State players, Karoline Stormo, a sophomore from Norway, and Michaela Finn, a junior from Sweden, and Maryland’s Charlotte Lafourcade, a freshman from France.
A third Razorback, Alana Uriell, a senior from Carlsbad, Calif., is one of three players tied for sixth at 1-over 72. She was joined at that figure by Iowa State’s Chayanit Wangmahaporn, a junior from Thailand, and TCU’s Yeji Shin, a junior from Norwood, N.J.
Arkansas’ fourth counter was Maria Hoyos, a freshman from Colombia who is tied for ninth at 1-over 73, giving the Razorbacks four players inside the top 10.
Teams were allowed six players, one more than the usual five, for the resumption of the college tournament season. Rounding out the Arkansas lineup were Kaylee Barton, a junior from Buckeye, Ariz. who carded a 78 and is tied for 39th and Jordy LaBarbera, a senior from Allen, Texas who posted an 84 and is tied for 63rd.
The host Boilermakers were led by Micaela Farah, a sophomore from Peru who came in at 5-over 71 and is tied for 22nd.
Also for Purdue, Inez Wanamarten, a freshman from Indonesia, is tied for 32nd with a 77, its senior leaders, Marta Martin (79) of Spain and Linn Andersson (80) of Sweden, are tied for 48th and 52nd, respectively, Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a junior from Indonesia, is tied for 60th with an 83 and Lauren Guiao, a freshman from Evansville, Ind., is tied for 65th with an 86.