The Georgia women’s golf team tee it up in the Lady Puerto Rico Classic tournament today marking the beginning of the 2017 leg of their season.
The Bulldogs, who enter the spring ranked No. 5 by Golfweek and No. 6 by Golfstat, headline the field at the Rio Mar River Course in Rio Mar, P.R.
“I was looking at the field and it’s even a little better than I thought it was going to be,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “There’s five of the top-15 teams in the country and 10 of the top-38, I believe. It’s been the best spring we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Georgia as far as the scores (in qualifying) heading into Puerto Rico. We’re excited and ready.”
Georgia’s lineup will consist of sophomores Bailey Tardy, Jillian Hollis and Rinko Mitsunaga and seniors Harang Lee and Mary Ellen Shuman. In addition, senior Sammi Lee will compete as an individual.
“They seem confident,” Brewer said. “Walking around our practices, you don’t sense anyone panicking that they need to work on their golf swing or working on their putting. I think qualifying and making it very difficult during those two weeks has given them confidence. Yes, they’re competing their teammates, but they’re also competing against some of the best golfers in the world. It’s been almost four months since we teed it up as a team. We’ll see where we are as a team pretty quickly. I’m sure we’ll have a little rust, but I’m confident we’ll get over that quickly.”
The Bulldogs are the top-ranked school in the 15-team field, with four other top-15 programs and an additional top-25 squad. Furman is ranked No. 7 by Golfweek and No. 8 by Golfstat, followed by Arkansas (No. 9 Golfstat/No. 19 Golfweek, Purdue (No. 12 Golfstat/No. 13 Golfweek), Kent State (No. 15 in both) and Baylor (No. 21 Golfstat/No. 23 Golfweek). Rounding out the competing schools are Augusta, Iowa State, LSU, Maryland, Michigan, N.C. State, TCU, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt.
Georgia is the tournament’s defending champion, with the Bulldogs winning in dramatic fashion a year ago. Georgia covered six holes late in the final round at 5-under to rally and win the team championship. The Bulldogs finished three shots better than No. 8 Arkansas. Harang Lee and Bailey Tardy led Georgia individually, tying for third and fifth, respectively.
“They’re familiar with the course,” Brewer said “Four of them are part of the team that won last year. Mary Ellen is a senior, but it’s her first trip to Puerto Rico so she’s very excited.”
The Bulldogs won two of four fall tournaments.
“We are definitely ready,” Mitsunaga said. “We had a great fall, and I think the reason that we did was that we were just focused on each of us playing well. We weren’t focused on winning or trying to get the title. For me individually, I have a goal set in my mind. I think we all do. It obviously helps when we’re all achieving those goals. I’m focusing on shooting under par every round. Basically, I think my game is good. I’m just focusing on shooting lower scores and making more birdies.”
“We’re so excited to be going to the warm weather and to get to play such a great golf course in Puerto Rico for our first tournament of the spring,” Hollis said. “This is a great chance to see where we are as a team right now and everybody is ready to get going. I did try to take a little bit of time off, but I worked really hard on my swing, the technique and the fundamentals. Having the offseason and not having to play allowed me to work on some things I wanted to concentrate on after the fall. I worked really hard on my short game and tweaked some of my putters. I’m really excited to see what this year has in store for us. I think we have some really good things to look forward to this season.”
The tournament will feature rounds on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Live scoring will be available via birdiefire.com.