Alabama, No. 2 in the latest Golfstat rankings and a two-time defending champion in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate which teed off Friday at the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head Island, S.C., looks like it has every intention of making in three in a row.
The Crimson Tide fired an opening round of 2-over-par 286 over the 6,265-yard, par-71 Long Cove layout to grab a one-shot lead over No. 13 Northwestern, the runnerup to Arizona State in the NCAA Championship’s final match at Rich Harvest Farms last spring.
Apparently, Northwestern decided to give another team an opportunity to win the Hurricane Invitational, which tees off Monday at the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Fla. and which the Wildcats had won four straight times. It is a veteran, battle-tested team and it hung right with an Alabama team that boasts three players in the top 10 of the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) as the perennial Big 10 power carded a 3-over 287.
No. 3 Arkansas is in third place with another solid outing in a season filled with them, a 6-over 290 that left the Razorbacks three shots behind Northwestern. LSU, which seems a little underrated at No. 56, is fourth at 7-over 291 and No. 9 Furman is tied for fifth with No. 67 Mississippi State at 8-over 292.
Brynn Walker, the North Carolina sophomore who won two PIAA Class AAA titles at Radnor High, and the No. 33 Tar Heels are tied for seventh with reigning national champion Arizona State, ranked sixth, at 9-over 293.
Georgia, somehow ranked 73rd, is ninth at 10-over 294 and No. 5 Duke is lurking in a tie for 10th in the elite 18-team field with No. 29 Vanderbilt at 11-over 295.
Leading the way for the Crimson Tide was Lauren Stephenson, a junior from Lexington, S.C. playing in her home state. Stephenson, No. 6 in the Women’s WAGR, carded a 2-under 69 to gain a share of fourth place, three shots behind Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, the sophomore from Ireland who fired a 5-under 66 to continue a run of strong play on her part this spring.
Backing up Stephenson for the Tide was Lakareber Abe, the veteran senior from Angleton, Texas who is tied for 10th after matching par with a 71. Kristen Gillman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas who is No. 9 in the Women’s WAGR, is tied for 23rd at 2-over 73.
Also in that group tied for 23rd is Alabama’s Cheyenne Knight, a junior from Aledo, Texas and the No. 8 player in the Women’s WAGR. Oh yeah, and she won the individual title at this event the last two years. So you have the eighth best female amateur player on the planet who’s the two-time defending individual champion and she’s tied for your third best score. How good is that?
Rounding out the Alabama lineup is Angelica Moresco, a freshman from Italy who is tied for 53rd at 5-over 76.
Mehaffey, No. 11 in the Women’s WAGR, earned a share of the individual title in an equally elite field in last month’s Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge. A member of Great Britain & Ireland’s winning Curtis Cup team in 2016, Mehaffey got off to a great start at Long Cove with her 66.
LSU’s Claudia De Antonio, a senior from Venezuela, is a shot behind Mehaffey in second.
Hannah Kim, No. 20 in the Women’s WAGR and a rock for the Northwestern program for four years, is alone in third as the Chula Vista, Calif. native posted a 3-under 68.
Her teammate Stephanie Lau, a junior from Fullerton, Calif., was in the group along with Alabama’s Stephenson, tied for fourth at 2-under 69.
Rounding out the trio at 2-under 69 is Furman’s Alice Chen, a senior from Princeton, N.J., playing in the same state where she joined with Furman teammate and fellow Jersey girl Taylor Totland to capture the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at the Dunes Golf & Beach Club in Myrtle Beach last spring.
Arkansas’ Maria Fassi, a junior from Mexico and No. 24 in the Women’s WAGR, is in a group of three players tied seventh at 1-under 70. Fassi owns a win at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic and has been playing great golf right from the jump late last summer.
Wake Forest’s Emilia Migliaccio, one of a large group of fabulous freshmen all over the country, and Vanderbilt’s Courtney Zeng, a junior from Orlando, Fla., are also in the group with Fassi tied for seventh.
North Carolina was led by its fabulous freshman, Ava Bergner of Germany, who is in the group tied for 10th at even-par71. The Tar Heels got a nice outing from Mariana Ocano, a sophomore from St. Petersburg, Fla. who carded a 2-over 73 and is in the group tied for 23rd.
Kelly Whaley, a junior from Farmington, Conn., is tied for 32nd another shot behind Ocano at 3-over 74. Walker, who also played on two state team champions at Radnor, one girls and one boys, was the final counter for the Tar Heels as she was another shot behind Whaley in a tie for 42nd at 4-over 75.
Rounding out the North Carolina lineup was Bryana Nguyen, a senior from Columbia, Md. who is tied for 87th after an 81. Clementia Rodriguez, a junior from Venezuela, is competing in the Darius Rucker and carded a solid 75 to join Walker in the group tied for 42nd.