Another look at women's Nationals
__RESTON, VA.—__I’m en route to Williamsburg, Va., site of the men’s NCAA Championship this week, but wanted to take some time and return to what happened last week in Daytona Beach, Fla., where we saw a little piece of history at the women’s NCAA Championship with Duke capturing its third straight national title. What impresses me most about the Blue Devils is their no-nonsense approach to the game.
Winds blowing 20-plus miles an hour? Who cares!
Rain coming in fits and spurts? What do you think raingear is for!!
“When we saw the conditions were going to be challenging, we were like ‘bring it on,’” noted sophomore Amanda Blumenherst, now a two-time national player of the year, amidst the post-tournament celebrating at LPGA International. “The worse it is the better we feel like we’re going to do because we just don’t let it get to us. Everybody is going to have to deal with it.”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet too many teams were freaked out by the gusts that howled all week. Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen might not admit to it, but I think that’s what got to the top-ranked Sun Devils, who suffered eight penalty strokes in the first round because of lost balls.
The bottom line is the Duke Blue Devils are ready to play each and every tournament. Dan Brooks can be a tough interview at times because of how frequently he talks about “the process” and “staying in the present.” However, his teams never complain about the hand they're dealt; they just play it. Until other schools figure this out and stop feeling sorry for themselves when conditions aren't perfect, we’re going to continue to see Duke walking off with hardware for years to come.
Meanwhile, here are some other random thoughts from women’s nationals:
1) If there’s been a more clutch round in women’s golf in the last few years than the six-under 66 Arkansas’ Stacy Lewis posted in the final round to win medalist honors, than I can’t think of it. Doing a little research back in the Wilton office yesterday, I found that it was the lowest final round from the NCAA individual winner since Vicki Goetze shot a 65 for Georgia to claim the title in 1992.
In trying to cover both the team and individual races on Friday, I decided to follow the final pairing of Blumenherst, UCLA’s Tiffany Joh and Purdue’s Christel Boeljon, the 54-hole leader by five shots. About the sixth hole, I check the Internet feed on my cell phone to look at Golfstat and see if anyone was making a move on the leaders. Sure enough, there was Lewis, having made two birdies on the front side, with another on the 10th hole. Five minutes later, I refresh the screen to see her make one on No. 11. Ten minutes later, refresh, another Lewis birdie. This went on until the 22-year-old junior from The Woodlands, Texas (above) had made five in a row and now had taken the lead.
Right then, I knew I had to jump to her group and at least see her finish her round as she teed off more than 1½ hours ahead of the pairing I was following. I got to Lewis on the 18th where she double crossed her 4-iron approach shot on the difficult, dogleg-left par-4 hole. She twisted around almost in agony but her ball wound up in a pretty good spot just left of the green. She then proceed to chip the ball 20 feet past the hole, only to make an incredible par-saving putt.
Lewis was in the awkward spot of being three up on Boeljon but having to wait for the Boilermaker sophomore to complete her final six holes and talk to the media about a “possible” win. Just as Lewis finished, however, the rains really came down, making it a virtual certainly the woman only five years removed from major surgery to correct scoliosis was about to win college golf’s biggest event.
Lewis is a great story—read this week's Golf World for full details—but her round was even greater.
__2) __There was plenty of chatter about what happened at Georgia with Todd McCorkle. Most coaches felt that while the conduct of the former Bulldogs coach were sad and unprofessional, that to paint McCorkle as a evil person wasn’t right either.
“I’ll go on the record as saying I think Todd is good at what he does and he’s not a monster,” said Arkansas coach Kelley Hester, who also serves as the president of the National Golf Coaches Association and was a former player at Georgia under previous coach Beans Kelly. “He just made some poor judgments.”
Hester noted, however, that what happened at Georgia should be looked at closely by all coaches. “I think it’s a wake up call to all of us that we should always be aware of what we say and how we act and who we say things around,” Hester said. “Just try to be good examples.”
__3) __It’s going to be one crazy summer, with all the top-level coaching jobs that are up for grabs. In addition to Georgia’s post, Texas, Texas A&M and New Mexico are all hiring. Hester admitted to an interest in the Georgia job, having played her college golf in Athens and grown up in the Peach State. With a new baby born this spring, her family still in Georgia and her husband’s family in Georgia, no wonder she said she’ll put her name in the ring. (Don’t be surprised too if former Bulldog Laura Henderson, Oklahoma State’s women’s coach, also gets in the running).
Of course, if Hester or Henderson got the job, another plum position opens up. As I mentioned in this week’s magazine, let the musical chairs begin.
__4) __UCLA sophomore Tiffany Joh, thanks for the kind words about the blog. Glad to know I’ve got a faithful reader.
__4a) __Congrats, too, to the third-place Bruins for turning around a season that looked like it was going nowhere fast last February.
5) If you ever get to Daytona Beach, aside from going to watch a sunrise over the Atlantic, you need to check out Daytona International Speedway. I went there the morning of the third round and took the bus tour inside the track. The thing you don’t appreciate on TV when watching a race there is just how big the place is. I went to school at Michigan, so I know from big sports stadiums, but a 2½-mile track is really gigantic. Meanwhile, to actually hear how loud some of the cars are (a few were on the track, giving those who had a true need for speed a chance to ride along for three laps at 170 miles per hour) was pretty amazing. I’m not sure I’m a new NASCAR fan, but I definitely have a new perspective on the sport.
6)__ Love bugs. All I’m going to say is they’re a lot more buggy than lovely.
__7) __Purdue’s Christel Boeljon looked like she’d been hit by a bus after posting a final-round 76 to lose her lead and finish tied for second behind Lewis, but I think this isn’t the last we’ll hear from the Dutch native.
__8) __Got to give some credit to my counterparts at Golfweek for their live Internet feed of the 18th hole the last two days. Lance, Asher and the rest of the crew, hope you’re recharged for Golden Horseshoe this week.
__8a) __Got to criticize my counterparts at Golfweek for their insistence that the tournament had ended after Duke took the lead in the second round. Sure, those bombastic thoughts look good now because the Blue Devils indeed claimed the brass ring, but a single-digit lead, even for the now back-to-back-to-back champions isn’t as much a foregone conclusion as you made it out to be. Sadly, young Purdue and UCLA teams didn’t apply much pressure to make it a real test.
__9) __If there’s any team that should be saying what might have been in Daytona Beach, it might have been Pepperdine. Having to play without Jayvie Agojo the first round after she suffered from a bout of tonsillitis the Waves, ranked No. 4 in the final Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll, still shot a 306 to end the day T-14. They then shot rounds of 299-300-297 to finish seventh with Agojo posting 74-76-78. It was Pepperdine's seventh top-10 finish at nationals in eight years.
10) For all Dan Brooks' process talk I mentioned before there’s one thing he said this past week that makes a lot of sense and I think more coaches should take to heart. Brooks is big on suggesting that players react in pressure situations based on habits they’ve built over time. No emotional, passionate, jaw-rattling speech, then, is necessarily going to get players to reach a higher level at nationals. Only hard work developing the right habits during the season, Brooks notes, can really help win a title. So his job during the week of the NCAA Championship isn't much other than to watch his players and hope that the habits he’s seen them form during the year will be followed by his players.
I sincerely believe you can over-coach at the national championship. Brooks will never be caught doing that. Maybe that’s why he has five rings to his credit now.