It wasn’t hard to spot Auburn’s Kim Evans last Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the Lady Puerto Rico Classic. All you had to do is look for the woman’s golf coach with the Cheshire-cat grin on her face after the Tigers had won by five shots over top-ranked Georgia and Oklahoma State. For the second straight tournament the least experienced player on her roster suddenly began channeling her inner Annika, turning the heads of many in the college golf world, not the least of which being Evans herself.
Of course, it’s too early to get too excited, Evans noted, the NCAA Championship still 12 weeks away. At the same time the 13-year coach who has won five SEC titles and three SEC coach-of-the-year honors wasn’t afraid to throw out one superlative regarding her current squad, ranked fifth in the most recent Golf World coaches’ poll.
“I’ve never had a team that’s worked this hard,” she contends. “What’s that term for kids who like hanging around the gym and shooting baskets? Gym rats? I think I’ve got some golf rats. They’ll be out practicing wedges an hour before practice [officially] starts. If they’re not playing, they’re practicing. I can’t articulate it. It’s just like … when I get to practice they’re all there. They’re ready to go.”
Macias and Milligan are no exceptions. The former hails from Madrid and was just 17 when she came to the U.S. in the fall of 2005. Evans anticipated it taking some time for Macias to get acclimated, but noticed upon her return to school in January a renewed energy. “I can’t remember a time since we've been back that I drove by the course and didn’t see Marianna there,” Evans said. “She had worked hard during the break back home in Spain, and I think she was chomping at the bit to finally prove herself.”
“You knew Marissa had some play in her,” Evans continued. “It was a matter of gaining some confidence and working a lot on her short game. just playing last year and being able to practice in a different setting. But you could just really see her come around when she returned this fall.”
It wasn’t like the Tigers were doing poorly before Macias and Milligan emerged from anonymity. The team was in the hunt at the NCAA Fall Preview in September only to post a disappointing final-round score that dropped them to fourth, the same scenario that occurred at the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate in October, where Auburn finished third. At no point, however, did Evans panic.
“I don’t think we were rusty,” she said, “but I just felt like we could have been a little better. I thought we have room to improve and we can improve and we can get better than this.”
If nothing else the emergence of Macias and Milligan means more competition back home to get a spot in the lineup and a little less pressure on the upperclassmen to carry the load during tournaments, both factors that can only bolster Auburn's collective confidence.
Her peers will tell you Evans is among the best women’s coaches in the country yet to have won a national title, her Tigers finishing sixth or better at NCAAs four of the past seven seasons. Whether this group will be the one to finally get her the ultimate prize remains to be seen, but Evans is excited to let things play out.
“We’ve had some really polished players in this program,” she said. “Right now we have two that have won that nobody has really heard of. I don’t know what to make of it. All I know is this team has a way of kind of hanging around the leader board and that’s a great trait to have.
"We’re going to have a great time trying to see how good we can be, and I think this squad will leave it all out there. They’ll leave 110 percent out there and that’s what I’m most pleased about.”