During the college golf season, GolfChannel.com will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf.
When Virginia’s season was canceled last March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cavaliers had just finished up a disappointing performance at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, placing 17th – or last – in the stacked women’s field and finishing 64 shots back of winner Wake Forest.
Thankfully, Virginia has selective memory.
A couple of weeks before the Darius, the Cavaliers rallied from nine shots down with nine holes to play to win the IJGA Collegiate Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“That’s what they chose to remember,” said Virginia head coach Ria Scott.
Things came full circle this week in Orlando, Florida, as the Cavaliers played their first event in nearly a year. Trailing by 11 shots entering Tuesday’s final round of the UCF Challenge at Eagle Creek, Virginia put together a Mexico-like rally, shooting the only under-par round in tough conditions (1-under 287) to finish at 5 under and win by a shot. And the runner-up team? That would be Wake Forest, not only the team that routed the Cavaliers in their previous tournament last spring but also the No. 1 women’s program in the country heading into the spring, according to GolfChannel.com.
Scott wasn’t surprised at all. She knows her team in tough. Virginia works with renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella, who has taught the Cavaliers to “crave the tough days,” and they got the opportunity to showcase what they’ve learned during one of the coldest and windiest days that Orlando has gotten this winter. It also helped that the team’s recent qualifier back home in Charlottesville simulated these blustery conditions.
“When we got out here [Tuesday], we said there is no team more prepared to play in this cold and wind than we are,” Scott said. “I think they really believed that.”
Virginia had three players shoot par or better on the final day. Junior Riley Smyth led the way with a 2-under 70 to finish T-7 overall. Sophomore Celeste Valinho went 3 under with an eagle on Eagle Creek’s three back-nine par-5s to shoot 72 and tie for third along with teammate and senior Beth Lillie, who turned in a closing 71 in her first tournament of any kind since August.
“It has been so long since we’ve competed,” Scott said. “We haven’t really had a measure for the work that we’ve put in in the offseason. I think it really validates all of the offseason work these players have been doing, and just gives them a lot of confidence headed into the rest of the season because we beat some really high-quality teams here.”
Virginia’s success out of the gates can very much be attributed to the fall. Though the Cavaliers weren’t permitted by the ACC to compete in college events, they managed to get all 10 players back on campus for classes and practices and their “little dose of normal,” Scott said. While some, like Lillie, played sparingly during that time, others competed a bunch, most notable Smyth, who reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur, won a Golfweek Amateur Series event and had six straight top-15 finishes heading into Virginia’s spring opener.
Scott also places a big emphasis on team bonding, which was made more challenging because of virus protocols. Still, the team got together for several socially distant activities off the golf course during their length break from competition, including s’mores on assistant Marissa Dodd’s patio, a movie night and dance competition in Scott’s backyard, even a trip to a corn maze.
“Many of them had never been to a corn maze,” Scott said. “They worked together really well. You do get a little lost, but that’s part of the fun, too.”
In many ways, the corn maze serves as a metaphor for this spring: Virginia trying to navigate its way through the unknown. The squad also works with Vision54 coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, who have stressed that golfers be masters of variability.
“There’s going to be things thrown your way that you have to deal with every single week,” Scott said. “Our motto is do whatever it takes to be able to play.”
While Scott doesn’t see pre-tournament COVID tests being any less nerve-racking as the season goes on, she and her team have embraced their new normal. They plan to drive to every tournament this spring. That includes two 12-hour trips to Central Florida to kick things off. They will return to the Sunshine State in less than two weeks to play in the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne. From there, they will drive straight to Kiawah, doing their classes and schoolwork on the road for five days until that event begins. The rest of the spring slate includes several events in Virginia, plus events in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
It’s a lot of time in the team van, but as Lillie told Scott, she’d bike to every tournament if it meant being able to play.
Whatever it takes.
College Golf Talk
In this week’s episode of the College Golf Talk Podcast, Steve Burkowski and Brentley Romine look back on the Southwestern Invitational, discuss Pepperdine’s start to the spring and talk some other early surprises, while Brentley catches up with Wake Forest’s Kim Lewellen and Rachel Kuehn as the Demon Deacons begin their season.
PGA Tour University
Here are the latest PGA Tour U rankings, which were released Wednesday. The top 15 players remained the same, but Louisville's Matthias Schmid moved into the top 20 while Pepperdine's Josh McCarthy, who has two wins and a second this season, is now No. 24, up from No. 33.
Here is a look at the current top 25:
- 1. John Pak, Florida State
- 2. Chun An Yu, Arizona State
- 3. Austin Eckroat, Oklahoma State
- 4. Davis Thompson, Georgia
- 5. Sandy Scott, Texas Tech
- 6. Quade Cummins, Oklahoma
- 7. Garett Reband, Oklahoma
- 8. McClure Meissner, SMU
- 9. Trevor Werbylo, Arizona
- 10. Jovan Rebula, Auburn
- 11. Hunter Eichhorn, Marquette
- 12. Kyle Hogan, Texas Tech
- 13. Tim Widing, San Francisco
- 14. Devon Bling, UCLA
- 15. Cooper Dossey, Baylor
- 16. Michael Feagles, Illinois
- 17. Christopher Gotterup, Rutgers
- 18. Spencer Ralston, Georgia
- 19. Matthias Schmid, Louisville
- 20. Jack Trent, UNLV
- 21. Graysen Huff, Auburn
- 22. Mason Andersen, Arizona State
- 23. Hunter Wolcott, Tennessee
- 24. Joshua McCarthy, Pepperdine
- 25. Benjamin Shipp, N.C. State
For full ranking, click here.
As it turns out, Ospreys can fly just fine in the wind.
North Florida battled cold and blustery conditions at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valley Course better than its competition, as the hometown Ospreys completed a wire-to-wire, 12-shot victory over Duke and Liberty on Tuesday at the Sea Best Invitational.
Fresh off a T-4 showing at the Timuquana Collegiate last week, North Florida continued to prove why it still remains one of the best mid-majors in college golf (ignore this writer who had the Ospreys ranked 12th among non-Power 5s entering the spring). It placed four players in the top 25, three of those at T-14 or better, including the individual champion, freshman Nicholas Gabrelcik.
A Florida native, Gabrelcik followed a T-4 in his college debut with a 3-under performance and one-shot victory over N.C. State’s Easton Paxton at TPC Sawgrass. Gabrelcik is North Florida’s first individual champion since current assistant coach Jordan Batchelor won the 2019 A-Sun Championship and the first freshman medalist since Joey Petronio in 2013.
“It was a nice team performance by the boys,” Ospreys head coach Scott Schroeder said. “It was a grind the last two days in the wind. This group is figuring out it can be pretty good. The good news is that we are capable of playing even better. What a great first collegiate win for Nick. It could be the first of many.”
Make it four
Attention, every Division I women’s golf program: Baylor is still red hot.
The Bears remained undefeated for the season, winning their fourth straight event – and first of the spring – Tuesday at the Trinity Forest Invitational. It wasn’t close, either, as Baylor finished at 1 over, 14 shots better than runner-up Oklahoma State.
Of course, the Bears don’t just own four team titles this season, they now also have four individual medals. Senior Gurleen Kaur won twice and senior Elodie Chapelet added another title in the fall, and on Tuesday freshman Hannah Kang notched her first college win, shooting 5 under to win by a shot over Oklahoma State standout Maja Stark.
"It feels absolutely amazing," Baylor head coach Jay Goble said. "The depth of this team is unlike anything we've ever had before."
All four of Baylor’s wins have come against their biggest Big 12 rivals, though both Oklahoma State and Texas, which placed third, haven’t been at full strength for much of the young season. The Cowgirls had Stark and a couple of other players sit out every team event in the fall while the Longhorns just got back Agathe Laisne and Sara Kouskova after each remained home in Europe last fall (both players tied for 18th at Trinity Forest). This week Texas was without All-American Kaitlyn Papp, who attended the U.S. Curtis Cup practice session this past weekend in Orlando, Florida.