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More of a Curse than a Blessing

Women’s Golf Finish at NCAAs Didn’t Do the Season Justice

2017 East Lake Cup - Day 3 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

“Carnage” was the word of the week to describe the Women’s NCAA Championship held at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville. No teams and only four golfers finished under par. Vanderbilt’s experience was no different, finishing 23rd of 24 teams (that one team, though, was our rival with a big football stadium). Their finish to the season was not indicative of the historic run they went on this year.

This year, the Women’s Golf team won six events including the Auburn Regional. They had three players on the All SEC Teams- Abbey Carlson and Auston Kim (1st Team) and Courtney Zeng (2nd Team)- and Greg Allen won SEC Coach of the Year. They were ranked as high as #1 in the country and never lower than 8th.

Allen brought the ‘Dores back to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2014 with a mix of young talent like Kim and upperclassman like Zeng, who played her best season to date.

Allen is candid and realistic about their finish, “This was a tough ending to a really special season. The NCAA Championship is a tough tournament to show up to with no one on the team having zero experience playing in one. And on top of that, we never got comfortable on the Blessings. I’m so proud of what this team accomplished this year.”

Experience matters, especially on a course like Blessings, whose rating can be as high as 80 (meaning a scratch golfer would shoot 80) and the maximum slope possible of 155 (meaning a bogey golfer would shoot that on 18). Most likely it played at 73.3 and 144.

But look no further than to the team scores and where Arkansas, the host team, placed. The No. 10 team in the country placed above six teams ranked ahead of them. Kent State and FSU, the No. 5 and No. 9 teams placed 17th and 12th, behind Arkansas by 24 and 30 strokes.

This isn’t too say the cream didn’t rise to the top. Five other teams from the Top 10 moved to match play with Duke defeating Wake Forest in the Final. But it speaks to the experience a home course can give, and the advantage of having golfers who have competed on this stage before.

Individually, Morgan Baxendale, who has turned it on in the Regionals and Finals, finished T-79 with Auston Kim at +17 on the tournament. Carlson was +19 and Louise Yu, +20. Zeng finished her career with +23.

The weather was a concern, as well. Storm systems brought wind the first day and a weather delay for rain the second. Allen does not blame the weather for the difficult play. He says the course is a difficult course, and the team just didn’t execute.

“There were some delays but that didn’t have anything to do with our poor play. We had a great game plan set up after the practice round. We unfortunately didn’t execute, especially on the greens. We had our share of really good birdie looks, especially the last round, but couldn’t get them to drop.”

Despite the disappointment, Allen is looking ahead to next year with great optimism. “We return four of the five starters and have some great freshmen coming in August. We say that we don’t win or lose, we win or learn. And our time at the National Championship was such a great learning and growing opportunity. I’m fired up to see what next year has in store for us.”

There is a lot on the plate for this Summer. Kim has qualified for the Women’s US Open and will have Assistant Coach Emilie Meason caddy for her. The Men’s Team is out at Blessings this week for their Championship. Allen has camps this summer and recruiting as well, “[I will] work a couple of camps this summer and recruiting never stops. There’s about 5 junior tournaments each week during the summer that we can recruit if we choose too. We will hit our fair share. And before you know it, school will be starting in August.”

He wants to support the Men’s Program, “I’ll keep an eye on our guys and if it looks like they’ll make it to the finals, I’ll head back out to Fayetteville to support them. We have a special thing going on at our golf house with both programs. Coach Limbaugh is a dear friend and I’d love nothing more than to be there in person to watch them win it all.”

But first, he wants to get home and spend time with his family after a long post season of Conference, Regional, and National Championships, “I want to [see Kim play], but I also need to get reconnected with my kids at home.”