With four of their five players shooting under par yesterday, and only the top four counting toward the team award, the nationally second ranked University of Texas Longhorns got out to a blazing start to the inaugural White Sands University of Houston Golf Invitational, and never looked back.
Collectively they shot a 12-under par 276, cruising to an opening round lead in the three-day collegiate tournament – the first of its kind in The Bahamas. More than 80 female golfers from 14 top National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I schools have come to The Bahamas for the collegiate classic set against the beautiful backdrop of the Ocean Club Golf Course on Paradise Island here in The Bahamas.
Sophie Guo, of China, the 19th ranked women’s collegiate player in the United States, led the way for the Longhorns, shooting a six-under par 66 on the 18-hole par 72 course. It carries a total yardage of 6,415 for women. Guo had three birdies on the front nine, and two birdies and an eagle on the back nine. Her eagle came on the par five 13th.
Guo was followed on the individual leaderboard by Gracyn Burgesss of Clemson and Karen Fredgaard of Houston, who both shot a four-under par 68. Houston’s Hannah Screen, Texas’ Sara Kouskova, Arkansas’ Ela Anacona and Caterina Don, of the University of Georgia, all shot three-under par 69 and are tied for fourth.
The other two Longhorns who shot under par were Kaitlyn Papp (two-under par 70) and Emilee Hoffman (one-under par 71).
In the team competition, trailing Texas on the leaderboard after day one are Arkansas at five-under par 283 and host team Houston at one-under par 287.
“All-in-all, I think it was a very good start to the week for us. We’re still getting used to the golf course and the winds so I definitely expect a better performance tomorrow,” said Houston Cougars’ Head Coach Gerrod Chadwell. “We got off to a slow start today, but if we could clean that up, and get off to a better start tomorrow, we’ll fare much better. It’s amazing out here. To come here and have the low winds and sunshine and then this beautiful course, it’s just amazing. I believe this will be an experience that student-athletes will be talking about for years to come. I believe this is one of the more premier events in college golf, and this setting has by far exceeded my expectations.”
Chadwell said it is his wish for the tournament to be an annual one in The Bahamas, but there is an NCAA rule in place prohibiting that, stating that an institution cannot engage in a foreign tour for sport more than once every four years. It is a matter that is currently being challenged in court.
“I hope it continues. Right now, there are regular tournaments in Canada and Mexico and last time I checked, those are foreign countries just as is The Bahamas so I don’t see one being better than the other. We have to wait for the NCAA to pass a waiver but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to continue this and return to The Bahamas. It is certainly our desire to come back here next year,” said Chadwell.
Houston golfer Annie Kim, of South Korea, wasn’t too pleased with her performance, but is optimistic for the remainder of the competition. She currently sits in an 11-way tie for 42nd with a three-over par 75 in the individual competition. In the team competition, she was tied as Houston’s third-best golfer on the day.
“I didn’t finish that strong but there is a lot of golf to be played so I’m just trying to remain focused, keep the balls in play and give myself an opportunity to make a lot more putts,” she said. “In the team competition, I do believe that we could put ourselves in contention to win. We have great chemistry and good individual golfers, so I feel we will do well together. The course is wonderful. The greens are rolling good so it’s just a matter of keeping balls in play and hoping for the best.”
With game six of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) World Series taking place last night, with the Houston Astros up three games to two on the Washington Nationals with a chance to close out the series, Kim said she and her teammates would be cheering for the Astros to win, but it is unlikely that they would have watched the game with it ending so late and them having to be up early for the second round of golf in the competition.
“The whole city is excited. We would like to watch the game, but it’s hard to do that because it finishes late and we have to be up early in the morning for another round of golf. We’re not sure if we will be able to watch it, but we’re definitely rooting for the Houston Astros,” she said.
Competition in the second round gets underway at 8 a.m. today, and again at 8 a.m. for the third and final round tomorrow. The event is sponsored in part by The Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism.
In the team competition, Texas is already up by seven strokes on its nearest competitor. Arkansas’ Head Coach Shauna Taylor said it’s going to be a challenge to catch them, but added that they are certainly up to the challenge. They sit in second at five-under par 283.
“Well, we want to win – that’s our goal,” said Taylor. “I felt like we got off to a good start today. A few slipped coming to the end of the day but we’re still in position to accomplish our goal with two more days to go, and what better place to do it than in paradise. This is a fantastic golf course and the weather and venue is simply amazing. It’s a great golf course for college golf, and I’m just excited and blessed to be here. Texas is a solid team but there are a lot of opportunities out there. We’ll go in, assess our game plan from today and see if we need to make any changes, and just look forward to two more days.”
Collectively, the Clemson Tigers are fourth, shooting an even-par 288 on the first day of competition. Head Coach Kelley Hester said she likes their chances.
“We had a couple players who went under par and played really well. Also, there were a couple who ran into some trouble out there so overall, it kind of evened out,” said Hester. “This was just our second time on the golf course, and I think that we handled it pretty well. It’s a beautiful golf course and we appreciate the opportunity to be here. I think that we could play the course a little better than we did today and we are looking forward to that tomorrow (Tuesday). It’s hard to beat the weather here in The Bahamas. It’s pretty much perfect for golf, and the course itself is in wonderful condition. It’s a great golf course and it’s set up pretty well – very appropriate for college players. We’re just going to go out there and control what we can and see where that leads us.”
The women’s competition ends on Wednesday, and the men start on Friday. Other teams in action in the women’s competition are Baylor University, Mississippi State University, the University of New Mexico, the University of North Texas, Ohio State University, the University of Oklahoma, Southern Methodist University (SMU), the University of Tennessee and Tulane University.
Houston Head Coach Chadwell said having a collegiate golf tournament here in The Bahamas will rival or exceed any other regular season or postseason event in significance and prestige.
Just four teams out of the Top 25 in the latest Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) Rankings for NCAA DI women’s golf are competing in the White Sands Classic this week. They are No. 2 Texas, Arkansas which is tied for 16th, No. 22 Mississippi State and host Houston which is tied for 23rd.