The No. 11-ranked Georgia women’s golf team will open play in the 2021 NCAA Championships on Friday. The 24-team tournament will be contested from May 21-26 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Bulldogs will be looking to continue their stellar play from NCAA Regional competition when they swept the team and individual titles in Columbus, Ohio. Georgia captured the team crown by a commanding 15 strokes over the field, while junior Jenny Bae earned medalist honors by a three-shot margin.
“It’s probably the best we’ve played as a program in three or four years quite honestly, especially with the stakes on the line,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “They seemed comfortable and relaxed leading into Regionals, and they seem that way after Regionals.
“It’s a confidence factor,” Brewer added. “You see it in golf. People or teams will get on runs of four or six or eight weeks where they just sort of dominate. We’ve been waiting for that. Now, let’s ride it. Let’s not be arrogant about it, but at the same time be very confident that we have five people who go out there and have a chance to win individually. That only helps the team get to the top and advance into match play.”
Georgia grabbed the lead with a spectacular late-day surge in the second round in Columbus, playing the final three holes at 6-under as a team to garner a seven-shot edge. Concurrently, Bae birdied six of her final seven holes to move atop the individual leaderboard.
The Bulldogs closed out Regionals in impressive fashion, more than doubling that margin between the rest of the field in the final round.
Georgia will be the No. 11 seed in Scottsdale. The Bulldogs will be paired with No. 10 seed Arizona State, the tournament host, and No. 12 seed Baylor for the first two rounds, teeing off in 11-minute increments between 3:36-4:20 p.m. ET on Friday. On Saturday, The Sun Devils, Bulldogs and Bears will tee off from No. 10 between 10:36-11:20 a.m. ET.
Georgia, which has 20 top-10 finishes in the last 41 editions of the national championships, is returning to the NCAA finals for the first time since 2016. That year, the Bulldogs swept the Regional in Bryan, Texas, shooting 6-under as a team and with then-freshman Bailey Tardy tying for medalist honors with UCLA’s Bronte Law. Georgia arrived at Eugene Country Club as the No. 6 seed with serious national championship aspirations only to finish a disappointing 18th.
“Last time we won (Regionals), we were sort of full of ourselves and expected to show up in Oregon and play great,” Brewer said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t. This is a little different. We’ve enjoyed it, but we’re already focusing on the mindset of how to play the course out there and have the same focus as last week.”
In Scottsdale, the Bulldogs will stick with the same playing five from Columbus. While that was obviously a given, it is worth noting Georgia has utilized seven different lineups in 10 tournaments this season.
Bae and Jo Hua Hung, who are juniors, are the only Bulldogs to play in every event. They will be joined by sophomores Caterina Don and Candice Mahé and freshman Isabella Holpfer. Caroline Craig is Georgia’s reserve player.
Bae has been the most consistent Bulldog this season. She has three top-10 finishes and seven top-20 efforts and also leads Georgia in virtually every key statistic.
Don and Hung sport four and three top-20 efforts, respectively. Both have shined outside the collegiate game this season as well. Don is one of only nine golfers to make the final round cut of both Augusta National Women’s Amateurs, finishing 12th in 2019 and 25th in 2021. Hung recently earned a spot in the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open field by placing third at a qualifier at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta on May 5.
Holpfer and Mahé posted their best finishes for Georgia in Regional play, tying for fifth individually. They own impressive competitive resumes and have a combined eight appearances in European Girls’ and Ladies’ Team Championships.
The NCAAs will feature 24 teams competing in 54 holes of stroke play on Friday-Sunday. The field will be cut to the top-15 teams and top-9 golfers not on advancing teams for an additional stroke play round on Monday. Following that round, the medalist will be crowned and the top-8 teams will advance to a match play bracket.
Bulldogs Boast Strong History In National Championship Play
Georgia has long been one of the college golf’s premier women’s programs, headlined by four total national titles – one team and three individual.
This is the 20th anniversary of the Bulldogs’ 2001 NCAA team title. In addition, Terri Moody earned medalist honors at the 1981 AIAW Championships, while Cindy Schreyer and Vicki Goetze took home individual crowns at the 1984 and 1992 NCAA Championships, respectively.
Those national championships just headline an extremely significant history for Georgia, which has posted 20 top-10 and 26 top-20 team finishes at AIAW and NCAA Championships since 1979. Individually, Bulldogs have combined to record 36 top-20 individual finishes at the national championships.
Georgia is making its 23rd all-time appearance at the NCAA Championships’ finals site. That ranks ninth-best nationally.
Georgia is one of only four schools to win NCAA titles in both women’s and men’s golf in the 2000s. Those schools are Georgia – women in 2001, men in 2005; Alabama – women in 2013, men in 2011; Stanford – women in 2007, men in 2015; UCLA – women in 2008, men in 2004 & 2011.
Remembering 20 Years Ago
This spring marks the 20th anniversary of Georgia capturing the 2001 NCAA Championship at Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla. The Bulldogs utilized three days of consistent golf to place themselves in contention and then put together a spectacular final-round effort to win UGA’s first-ever team national title in women’s golf.
Georgia shot 298 and was among three teams tied for fourth after the opening day but climbed to sole possession of third after a second-round 295. The Bulldogs improved to 293 in the third round but still trailed top-ranked Duke by four entering the final 18 holes.
Georgia seized contol early in the fourth round, tying the Blue Devils by No. 5 and then surging to a three-shot lead at No. 6. Duke never got closer than two shots thereafter.
Georgia clinched the title with steely resolve. After a trio of bogeys at No. 16, UGA played the par-5 No. 17 at 3-under to all but seal the national title. The Bulldogs’ fourth-round score of 290 was six shots better than any other team in the field, as Reilley Rankin and Summer Sirmons carded a pair of 72s, while Laura Henderson and Angela Jerman both shot 73.
All four of those Bulldogs finished among the top 18 individuals, with Rankin tying for 10th at 292, Henderson and Jerman both tying for 13th at 294 and Sirmons tied for 18th at 296.
Georgia’s Regionals Success
Georgia’s captured its seventh and eighth NCAA Regional victories in Columbus. Since the NCAA went to a Regional format in 1993, Georgia has claimed five team and three individual titles.
The Bulldogs won East Regionals in 1993, 1998 and 1999, the Bryan Regional in 2016 and the Columbus Regional last week. Jenny Bae joined Reilley Rankin (1998) and Bailey Tardy (2016) as Georgia’s Regional medalists.
Georgia’s five team Regional crowns equals the fourth-most nationally, trailing Southern Cal (13), Duke (10) and UCLA (eight).
Georgia is one three programs to sweep Regional team and individual titles twice since 2016. The Bulldogs did so in Bryan, Texas (2016) and Columbus (2021). The others are Stanford (Albuquerque in 2017 and Stanford in 2021) and South Carolina (Baton Rouge in 2016 and Columbus in 2017).
Trio Leads Bulldogs
Jenny Bae, Caterina Don and Jo Hua Hung have combined to lead Georgia in nine of 10 tournaments this season.
Bae paced the Bulldogs five times – at the Blessings Invitational, The Ally, the Gamecock Intercollegiate, the SECs and the Columbus Regional. Don and Hung both did so twice. Don led Georgia at the Heroes Intercollegiate and Gators Invitational. Hung was top Dog at the spring Liz Murphey Classic and the LSU Tiger Classic.
Caroline Craig is the only other golfer to be Georgia’s top individual finisher, tying for seventh at the Liz Murphey Fall Collegiate Classic.
Bae, Don Earn SEC Honors
Jenny Bae and Caterina Don were voted second-team All-SEC for the 2020-21 season in balloting of the league’s head coaches announced on May 7.
This is the second season earning SEC accolades for both Bae and Don. Bae was named to the league’s All-Freshman team in 2019, while Don was tabbed both second-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman a year ago.
Hung Surges To Grab Open Invite
Jo Hua Hung shot 2-under 142 to finish third overall and, more importantly, earned a spot in the field for the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open on May 5.
Hung birdied three of her last six holes to grab the third in final spot allotted at the Open qualifier contested over three days at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. In addition, teammate Jenny Bae shot even-par 144 to earn the first alternate slot from Druid Hills.
This year’s U.S. Women’s Open will be contested on June 3-6 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif.
The Druid Hills qualifier began on Monday morning but was quickly plagued by prolonged weather delays. Hung completed just two holes on Monday before play was suspended and torrential rains flooded the course. On Tuesday, play didn’t begin until the afternoon, and she finished No. 6 before the competition was halted again.
Hung returned on Wednesday knowing she would have a 30-hole day. She finished her first round at even par.
“After 18 holes I checked live scoring to see where I was, and I think the top five players were all shooting under par,” Hung said. “I told myself that during the second 18 holes I had to be aggressive. I knew I had to get as many birdies as I could because if I shot par I probably had no chance.”
Hung was 1-over through 28 holes, but she rallied to birdie No. 4, No. 5 and No. 7 to surge up the leaderboard late in the day.
All told, six UGA golfers have combined to earn eight spots in the fields of the last six U.S. Opens, including Rinko Mitsunaga and Bailey Tardy in 2016, Tardy in 2017, Céleste Dao and Jillian Hollis in 2018, Dao in 2019, Caterina Don in 2020 and Hung in 2021.