The Georgia women’s golf team are in Hilton Head, SC this weekend for the three-round, 54-hole Darius Rucker Intercollegiate tournament at the Long Cove Club. Georgia will be paired with North Carolina and Arkansas for the first round, which will tee off from No. 1 in waves from 8:30-9:10 a.m this morning.
Half of the nation’s top-12 and top-20 teams are included in the field. No. 5 Alabama is the highest-ranked entrant followed by No. 6 Furman, the No. 8 Bulldogs, No. 10 Arizona State, No. 11 Wake Forest, No. 12 Arkansas, No. 14 South Carolina, No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 18 Duke and No. 19 Baylor. Rounding out the competing teams are Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
“This is much better than a (NCAA) Regional field,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “It’s maybe not as strong as a national championships field, but at the same time, it’s similar in that our national championships have gone to where 10-15 of the top-20 teams make it.”
The tourney is Georgia’s second of the spring. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs finished fifth at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. That was after Georgia won two of four fall events.
“Physically, we’re fine,” Brewer said. “It’s just getting mentally sharp and staying focused. We tried to create that this week in qualifying. We made areas in course like cart paths out of bounds. We made areas in course water hazards. We’re really talented and play tough courses at home, but they can get up there and hit it and make pars and birdies. I tried to wear them out a little bit mentally, but they responded by posting seven scores under par out of 24 rounds. That tells me that when they’re really focused and wanting to go, they’re capable. All we want is to be in the hunt on Sunday.”
The same quintet of golfers who played in Puerto Rico earned spots in this weekend’s lineup in qualifying. Senior Harang Lee will anchor Georgia’s playing five, followed by Bailey Tardy, Jillian Hollis, Rinko Mitsunaga and Mary Ellen Shuman.
“I think it helps us prepare for nationals,” said Tardy, who is ranked No. 6 in the latest World Amateur Golf Rankings. “Playing in strong fields allows us to go into each tournament knowing that this is what it’s going to be like at nationals. We didn’t play our best at Puerto Rico, and we didn’t play our best at Stanford (in the fall). But we can still see that when we’re not playing our best we can still be in contention. It’s nice to have that experience and exposure to hard teams and what they’re doing and what we should be doing to try to be No. 1.”
Tardy sports a team-best stroke average of 71.31, with eight par-or-better scores in 13 rounds this season.
“I really struggled with putting my second day in Puerto Rico,” Tardy said. “I’ve worked so hard on my putting over the past couple of weeks and my scores in qualifying were lower. I think I’m striking the ball really well off the tee. Tee-to-green, I think it’s the best I’ve been hitting the ball the entire time I’ve been at Georgia. I just need to figure out what’s going on on the greens.”
The weekend’s events include a private concert with tournament namesake Darius Rucker.
“It’s nice to have someone who is one of the biggest stars in America support women’s golf,” Brewer said. “And he’s there. He performs a concert. If he’s not touring that week, he’s around on the range to visit with the kids and take pictures. It’s a special event, and it really helps grow our game in a lot of ways.”
Live scoring will be available throughout the weekend at www.golfstat.com.