The UGA women’s golf team will open the team portion of its 2016 campaign on Sunday when the Bulldogs begin play at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic in Rio Grande, P.R. Georgia is coming off a stellar fall season that placed the Bulldogs No. 5 and No. 8 in the national Golfweek and Golfstat rankings, respectively.
The 54-hole event will be contested Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Rio Mar Country Club River Course. The 16-team field features four top-10 and seven top-25 squads. Northwestern, which is No. 5 according to Golfstat and No. 6 by Golfweek, has the best combined ranking. Other consensus top-10 teams include Arkansas (No. 4 Golfstat, No. 8 Golfweek), the Bulldogs (No. 5 Golfweek, No. 8 Golfstat) and Kent State (No. 7 Golfstat, No. 9 Golfweek). Iowa State, Purdue and Texas Tech also are included in the top-25 of one or both rankings. Rounding out the field are Auburn, Augusta State, Clemson, Indiana, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, N.C. State and TCU.
“It’s a very good field,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “When you sign up for a tournament, you may not know how strong the field will be. Some of the teams in Puerto Rico had great falls. It’s going to be a great test for us and quickly tell us if the momentum has carried over from the fall or if we have to work a little harder to get the rush knocked off quicker.”
Individually, Georgia’s Harang Lee and Bailey Tardy are two of seven top-25 golfers in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index in the field. Northwestern’s Stephanie Lau is the highest ranked individual at No. 4, followed by Lee at No. 5, Hannah Kim of Northwestern at No. 6, Gabby Barker of Texas Tech at No. 8, Tardy at No. 15, Taylor Kim of Kent State at No. 17 and Regina Plasencia of Arkansas at No. 25.
All five golfers in the Bulldogs’ lineup are ranked in the top-75 by Golfweek. Jillian Hollis is No. 38, Manuela Carbajo Ré is No. 63 and Rinko Mitsunaga is No. 69.
Lee and Brewer believe the team success in the fall, when Georgia won titles at the Cardinal Kick-off Classic and the Windy City Collegiate, has helped foster individual development as well.
“Golf is golf, but at the same time it’s great knowing that you have the support of your teammates and coaches,” Lee said. “Trying to be the best team that we can be is something that’s exciting and motivating. It’s so much fun. We push each other to try to get better day by day and if someone’s sad or mad we try to help them off the course too.”
“You can see they’re excited and ready,” Brewer said. “They play summer golf by themselves and they’ve been doing that for a long time, but it’s fun to have a group that wants to go compete for one program, one school. They’re excited, and they want to beat each other. That’s the fun part of it. They want to finish first as a team, but they don’t want to finish fourth or fifth on the team.”
Mitsunaga was medalist at last weekend’s Lady Bulldog Individual Championship at the UGA Golf Course, a one-day, 36-hole event. The freshman from Roswell, Ga., shot 3-over 71-76=147 and then defeated Alison Hovatter of Ole Miss on the first hole of a playoff.
“I actually wasn’t really expecting it because I didn’t finish out well,” Mitsunaga said. “It was a good experience playing in the playoff. It’s been a little while since we’ve played in a golf tournament as a team so I’m ready to get started. I’m just doing what I’ve always been doing, keep practicing. It’s all experience. We’ll see how rusty we are.”
Last weekend’s event will pay dividends in Puerto Rico according to Brewer.
“It’s why we host the tournament, just to play,” Brewer said. “If not, I think it would’ve been four months since we teed it up. It’s an individual tournament, but you’re playing 36 holes, you’re walking, you have to tee it up and putt it out. I think we learned a lot about ourselves. I know we’ll be more ready this Sunday than if we had not competed.”
In addition to the team, sophomore Isabella Skinner will compete as an individual in Puerto Rico.
“Winter golf and getting back into competition after quite a break can be interesting,” Skinner said. “You can see weaknesses in your game that you don’t necessarily see in practice. Even though we play a good bit, there’s nothing like competing. I actually think I’m playing the best that I ever have coming off the winter break. I’m excited about that and hope to continue to make progress. Obviously, I’m pumped that I’m getting the opportunity to play in Puerto Rico, even though it’s not as a part of the team. Being able to compete along with everyone else and still have that chance is really exciting.”
The tournament will feature a shotgun start each day, beginning at 8 a.m. on Sunday and Monday and at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Live scoring will be available via www.birdiefire.com.
For more information on the Georgia Women’s Golf team, follow the team on:
Face Book: UGA Bulldogs Women’s Golf
and on Vine at UGA Womens Golf