The Bulldogs’ lineup in California will include senior Manuela Carbajo Ré, junior Harang Lee, sophomore Isabella Skinner and freshmen Jillian Hollis and Rinko Mitsunaga.
Skinner was a late addition to the playing five after Bailey Tardy, who leads Georgia in stroke average and is currently ranked No. 13 individually in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index, suffered a concussion and will miss the trip while recovering.
“I feel for Bailey and we’ll be playing for her in California,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “We’ll get her back in the lineup in Puerto Rico. This could tell (assistant coach) Whitney (Young) and I a lot about the team and the program though. Are they mentally strong enough to play without one of our best players? It’s a heckuva an opportunity for Bella. I give her credit. Even though she missed qualifying, she’s been out here working the past couple of days. All you want in life is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for her, but it’s alway a great opportunity for us to tell the country ‘We can take one of our best players out of the lineup and still beat you.’ That’s the attitude we’re going to take to Stanford with us.”
Georgia began the season ranked No. 27 in Golfweek’s preseason top-30 but has posted two wins, a runner-up finish and a third-place showing in its first four events of the campaign. That has pushed the Bulldogs to No. 2 in this week’s edition of the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index.
“I’d like to start the NCAA Championships right now since we’re playing so well, but we try to end the fall before Halloween every year because I think we need a break,” Brewer said.
The stacked field features the current top-four teams in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index – No. 1 Southern Cal, the No. 2 Bulldogs, No. 3 Northwestern, No. 4 Arizona. All told, nine of the 17 schools are currently ranked in the top-25. No. 9 Stanford, No. 11 Arizona State, No. 12 UCLA, No. 14 Iowa State, No. 21 Washington, Auburn, Cal, Oregon, Pepperdine, San Jose State, UC Davis, Vanderbilt and Washington State also will be competing.
“It will be a great challenge, going to the West Coast and trying to battle teams in their time zone after we get our bodies adjusted,” Brewer said. “I think it’s the only way to truly judge yourself when your goals are to win the second NCAA title in school history or the 12th SEC Championship. You have to beat the best schools. You want to compare yourselves with them every week. We’ve stacked up really well and I expect us to be in the same position in the final round where we can beat most of them again.”
Lee, who is No. 9 in individual national rankings, is one of five top-10 golfers in the field.
“I’m excited to play again,” Lee said. “I love traveling and playing tournaments and competing. We’re doing great, so that makes it even more fun. We have such good players and there’s a lot of talent and everyone could play No. 1 for us. I feel like we all want to be that person. We’re practicing hard. We cheer for each other too though, so it’s nice to have everyone pulling for you and pushing you to play even better.”
Skinner was in the Georgia lineup for the Windy City Collegiate, where the Bulldogs tied with Northwestern and Arizona for the team title. She appeared to be the odd-person out after qualifying before Tardy’s setback.
“I wish Bailey was healthy, but I am excited have the chance to get back out there,” Skinner said. “We’re ranked No. 2 in the nation. Just because I haven’t traveled as much doesn’t mean I wasn’t playing well. I’ve been working on trying to get my game to where I will be playing more consistently. I’m focusing on trying to correct some of the mistakes I made in Chicago and see if I can put some better scores out there.”