Feb. 21, 2010
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a 10-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2010 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish women’s golf team, which has advanced to the NCAA Central Regional each of the past two seasons and four times in the past six years.
The Fighting Irish women’s golf team is set to open the spring portion of their 2009-10 schedule at the Central District Invitational on Monday, Feb. 22. at the River Wilderness Country Club in Parrish, Fla. The two-day event will include rounds one and two on Monday followed by the third and final round of play on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Both days will feature shotgun starts.
The Central District Invitational will involve 15 teams, seven of which are ranked in the Golfstat Top 25 (Feb. 17, 2010). In addition to Notre Dame (ranked 42nd) and host Michigan State (10), Arkansas (45), Florida (18), Kent State (31), LSU (12), Michigan (75), Missouri (79), Northwestern (38), TCU (34), Texas (41) and Texas A&M (23) will play for the 2010 Central District Invitational championship.
“We’re ready to play some golf,” said Irish head coach Susan Holt. “While the Rolfs Golf Facility is a great help in allowing us to work on our short game and to hit balls, nothing is better than getting out there and playing some rounds of golf.”
The Irish lineup at River Wilderness will include senior co-captains Annie Brophy Spokane (Wash./Gonzaga Prep) and Kristin Wetzel (Middletown, NY/Hilton Head (S.C.) Prep School) as well as juniors Katie Conway (Wading River, NY/Shoreham-Wading River) and So-Hyun Park (Seoul, South Korea/Bradenton (Fla.) Preparatory Academy) and sophomore Becca Huffer (Denver, Colo./Littleton).
Not only does the Irish lineup have a lot of experience – the five starters have combined to play in 134 tournaments – but it boasts a strong one-two punch at the top in Brophy and Huffer. Brophy currently ranks 94th in Golfstat’s most recent individual rankings and 67th according to the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings while Huffer is ranked 77th by Golfstat and she is 82nd in the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings. Additionally, Brophy and Huffer had each of their 12 fall rounds counted towards team scoring.
The Irish closed out the fall season with a tie for second at the Alamo Invitational led in part by Brophy, who earned co-medalist honors at the event. She fired a two-under par 70 in the only round of play at the Briggs Ranch Country Club (shortened due to rain) for the second win of her career. Her score was aided by birdies on the 16th, 3rd, eighth and ninth holes (after teeing off from the 11th) and the 70 tied for her second lowest round with the Irish. Brophy carries a streak of four consecutive top-20 finishes into the spring campaign as well.
Senior co-captain Annie Brophy, ranked 67th in the latest Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, will carry a string of four consecutive top-20 finishes into the spring 2010 season.
Huffer built upon an impressive freshman season in which she earned BIG EAST Freshman of the Year honors to lead the Irish with a 73.75 stroke average in the 2009 fall season. Huffer’s fall season stroke average was almost two strokes (1.80) lower than her freshman year total of 75.55, an improvement which Holt partially attributes to the friendly rivalry between Brophy and Huffer.
“Annie and Becca have been able to feed off of each other and have fun going head to head with each other,” noted Holt. “It is all in good fun but they both want to beat each other and that is good for the team. They push each other and as a result we get the best from both more times than not. I am looking for them to continue to lead by example and get the others to follow their lead.”
Junior Katie Conway (Wading River, N.Y./Shoreham-Wading River) also had a strong fall campaign as all 12 of her rounds counted towards team scoring and she posted the third best stroke average on the team at 76.83, which is over half a stroke lower (0.67) than her career stroke average entering the 2009-10 season.
The team will also be looking for junior So-Hyun Park (Seoul, South Korea/Bradenton (Fla.) Preparatory Academy) to be a major contributor down the stretch this spring. Park, an All-America selection following her freshman season, has started 27 events in two and a half years with the Irish and entered the 2009-10 campaign with the program’s best career stroke average, a 74.82 mark.
With a team-leading 73.75 stroke average in the fall, sophomore Becca Huffer has picked up right where she left off in 2009, when she earned the BIG EAST Conference Freshman of the Year award.
Wetzel adds a veteran presence to the Irish lineup. Three of her fall rounds counted towards team scoring and she finished tied for 22nd at the Alamo Invitational, accounting for one of Notre Dame’s 13 top-25 finishes during the fall season.
“Four of our five starters have played this course [River Wilderness Country Club] before so I am looking for us to get off to a good start this spring,” said Holt. “I think it is important to come out ready to play and get some good rounds out of everyone to set the tone early for the spring season. We need more balance and solid contributions from all five players. We have experience on our side and we need to take advantage of it.”
The Irish enter the spring season ranked 42nd according to the most recent Golfstat rankings (Feb. 17) and 40th according to the Golfweek/Sagarin (Feb. 16) ratings. But, given the field strength expected to compete at each of Notre Dame’s spring events, the Irish will have plenty of chances to bolster their rankings and prepare for the pressures of postseason play.
“I think we will have a real opportunity to make a move in the rankings as we will play against many top-25 teams at each event,” said Holt. “If we capitalize on those opportunities, we can position ourselves well for the post season.”
After taking part in the Central District Invitational, the Irish will play in three more regular season tournaments including the LSU Classic, the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational and the Sun Trust Lady Gator. Then, starting on April 18, Notre Dame will try to reclaim the BIG EAST Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.
“We will be tested each time out and that will prepare us for the type of tough competition at the NCAA tournament,” concluded Holt. “Our goals remain to win the BIG EAST, to advance to the NCAA Regional, and to make the NCAA Finals. We have had bits and pieces over the last couple of years but not all three. We will not be fulfilled until we achieve all three in the same season.”
The drive towards achieving all three goals starts on Monday with the first two rounds of the Central District Invitational.
— ND —