__WILMINGTON, N.C.—__I caught up with USC women's coach Andrea Gaston after her Trojan squad posted a rather tidy six-under 282 Tuesday afternoon at CC of Landfall. Not only is she pretty good golf coach—hence the two national championships on her resume—but she's a mind-reader to boot.
"You're going to ask me about leading in the first round again, aren't you?" said Gaston. "You like bringing that up?"
Yeah, I do. But that's only because not every school has managed to take the lead after the opening 18 holes at the NCAA Championship five times in the past seven years the way USC has.
This time around, the Women of Troy have a two-shot edge on Purdue and a six-shot advantage over UCLA, Arizona State and Duke, thanks to a 67 from sophomore Jennifer Song (which also gives her a share of the individual lead) and a 68 from freshman Cyna Rodriguez.
There is irony, of course, in the fact that it's Song and Rodriguez that led the way when you consider they're the two USC players in this week's lineup who didn't make the trip last October to the Pete Dye course for the NCAA Fall Preview. Maybe that's a good thing, considering USC finished 16th out of 18 teams at that event; no bad memories to carry like excess baggage
"I felt like their practice rounds were really good," Gaston said. "They learned the golf course pretty quickly."
Rodriguez made just one bogey in matching her best round of the 2009-10 season, converting birdies on four of her final 11 holes.
"You've got to be committed on certain shots, know where to be aggressive," Rodriguez said. "I did a good job of thinking my way around the course."
Song had success with her short game, holing three birdie putts outside 15 feet and converting two momentum-saving up-and-downs for par. She then closed out the round with some fireworks, hitting a 6-iron second shot into the par-5 18th hole from 170 yards to three feet for an easy eagle.
That was something else I wanted to ask Gaston about, because of the circumstances right before Song hit her second shot. Sitting in her part beside the 18th fairway, Gaston debated whether to approach Song and remind her that hitting her ball right of front-right hole location was to be avoided at all costs and that the safer play was to the left portion of the gigantic green. She decided to talk with her, after which Song hit her shot, the ball tracking right on the flag stick before settling to near gimme range.
So Andrea, I said in a bit of a sacrastic way, I thought you were going to tell her to be more conservative with the shot?
"I told her what she needed to know," Gaston said with a wink.
Joining Song atop the individual leader board at five under after Day 1 was Purdue's Maude-Aimee LeBlanc and Arizona State's Jennifer Johnson. LeBlanc, a junior from Quebec, said that she had struggled of late to find any rythme in her swing. After a T-35 finish at the Central Regional, she talked to Boilermakers coach Devon Brouse about the problem and they decided she needed to focus on swinging more slowly and taking an extra club to compensate for any loss of distance.
"It worked on the first hole and so I just kept doing it the entire round," said LeBlanc.
"We played in a lot of wind at the Big Tens and at Regionals and she just couldn't find the clubface," noted Brouse. "In that situation you have to back off with swing speed. Hopefully she's gained some confidence."
Johnson, a freshman who finished runner-up at last year's U.S. Women's Amateur, was just one under after 12 holes but made birdies on four of her last six holes.
At just 445 yards, the par-5 18th hole at CC of Landfall is a definite birdie opportunity for the best women's collegiate players in the world. But when it's playing down wind, the way it was during the first round Tuesday, well it's almost too easy.
With four eagles and 61 birdies (compared to 49 pars, seven bogeys and one double bogey), the hole played to a stroke average of 4.5, or a half a stroke below par. By comparison, the next easiest hole was No. 17, which played at only .10 of a stroke under par.
The most impressive of the four eagles had to be the one made by Tulane sophomore__ Samantha Troyanovich__, who rolled in a 102-foot putt to grab her 3 on the hole.