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The Loop

FSU, Negron get early jump at NCAAs

WILMINGTON, N.C.—Jessica Negron's last two rounds at the NCAA Central Regional were hardly the confidence boosters you're looking for heading into the national championship. Yet the Florida State freshman managed to shake off the ill effects of the pair of 80s she carded at Otter Creek GC two weeks ago to post a three-under 69 Tuesday morning at CC of Landfall and take the early lead through the morning wave of the 29th NCAA Championship.

The Ocala, Fla., said she spent the time between regionals and nationals focusing on her putting. The work obviously paid off as she cruised around the Pete Dye course without making a bogey.

Asked if she was surprised about her personal turnaround, Negron politely conceded that the answer was no. "Because I got all those negative thoughts out of my head," she said. "Coming into practice all week and once we got here for the championship, I was focused. I was really confident actually coming in."

It wasn't just Negron that had a hot hand for the Seminoles. Sophomore Maria Salinas shot a two-under 70 to help FSU shoot a one-over 289, three shots better than the next closest team (TCU) playing in the morning wave.

Florida State is one of the championship's more interesting stories. After the fall semester, long-time coach Debbie Dillman left the program at the behest of school officials. The women's team started the spring season with men's coach Trey Jones and assistant Chris Malloy overseeing the team until hiring former LPGA Tour pro Kate Golden as an interim coach in early February. Since then, the squad posted two wins and four top-five finishes in six starts.

"It's great to get off to a good start, but this is a long tournament," Golden said. "The thing Chris and I have to emphasize is not to get too far ahead of ourselves, just stay calm and know that we've got the talent to play this course well."

While the Pete Dye course remained soft in the morning, thanks to rain from the past few days, the winds picked up earlier than anticipated, explaining the higher than expected scores from the morning wave. Aside from Negron's 69, only seven other players shot sub-par rounds. Most notable: Oklahoma State sophomore Caroline Hedwall, who shot a 70 despite the fact she struggled with her putter.

"I just didn't make any putts on the back nine," said Hedwall, who made five birdies overset by three bogeys. "It could have been a little better. Still, it's a good start."

Hedwall has four individual wins this season and is considered one of the leading contenders for the national player-of-the-year award. OSU coach Annie Young says the biggest difference in her game this season has been her mental approach. "She may not notice it but as a coach you can see she's a lot more relaxed out there when she's playing. i don't know if it's because when you start winning you get some confidence going but she's got a confidence about her that's pretty special to see."