By JASON ELMQUIST
After two years away from the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, the No. 16 Oklahoma State Cowgirl golf program will take aim at the national tournament in Athens, Ga.
Oklahoma State will start Tuesday on No. 10 and be grouped with Florida and South Carolina. OSU’s first golfer off will tee at 11:55 a.m., with the No. 1 golfer teeing off last at 12:39 p.m. The Cowgirls will start on No. 1 at 7:28 a.m. Wednesday.
“You can’t do well at the national championship if you don’t make it, so that’s always the first step,” said OSU coach Alan Bratton, who is in his second year as the head coach after serving as an assistant in the men’s program. “I’d never been to a regional and not made it until last year — so that was a new experience for me. And this group have never made it, so that’s always a hurdle you have to get over and they handled themselves beautifully at the regional and played very well.”
But because of the time away from the national championship, the Cowgirls go in with no experience at the national level — though Bratton isn’t all too concerned about that.
“We’ve got girls who have played all over the world and they are very excited to be here and we’re in a fortunate spot that while we believe we can do well, I don’t think much of the rest of the country is talking much about Oklahoma State,” Bratton said. “So we get to come in with the opportunity to maybe play with a little chip on our shoulder or at least you don’t have the added pressure of people asking us about the expectations like some of the top seeds will have.”
The best finish for the Cowgirl golf program came in 2004 when Swedish golfer Karin Sjodin led OSU to a second place finish — three strokes behind UCLA for the title. Sjodin, who now plays on the LPGA Tour, took second in the tournament, one stroke shy of Cal’s Sarah Huarte.
Oklahoma State’s best finish since then was a fourth-place finish in 2009 and made it back to the NCAA tournament after missing the cut the past two years. The best individual finish for a Cowgirl golfer came in 2010 when Caroline Hedwall became the first Cowgirl to win medalist honors.
“I think we are playing good enough right now to be able to get a trophy (which is awarded to the top four teams). I would love to see them do that,” Bratton said. “I’d like to think that we can be one of those four teams.”
This week’s lineup will consist of senior Kelsey Vines — the fourth-ranked women’s college golfer according to Golfweek.com — juniors Lauren Falley, Josephine Janson and Jayde Panos, as well as freshman Julie Yang, who is ranked 35th by Golfweek.com.
The tournament will be held at University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga., which Bratton says is built to suit the style of play for his golfers.
“The greens will be firm and fast, which we are used to putting on fast greens at Karsten Creek; there’s also a lot of elevated approach shots to where the green is quite a bit above you where it’s an advantage to be able to hit the ball high or far, or both,” Bratton said. “And we have several girls who hit the ball a long way and several that have the ability to hit the ball high, so they might be able to hole the green while some other golfers have a little harder time.
“So in that sense, things are coming together well for us to have a good week and hopefully we can get in the thick of it.”