The LSU Lady Tigers have known an NCAA golf regional was coming to the University Club for a couple of years now.
What they didn’t know is whether they would be eligible to play in it.
LSU was dealt a couple of debilitating blows during the fall when junior All-American Caroline Nistrup and sophomore Claudia De Antonio were lost with season-ending injuries.
It led to what coach Karen Bahnsen admitted was a nerve-wracking spring for her and the remaining Lady Tigers, who found out last week that they indeed qualified for the Baton Rouge regional as the 12th seed. LSU and 17 other teams, plus six unattached individuals, begin play Thursday in the 54-hole event.
“The kids put pressure on themselves, and I did, too. You don’t want to, but it’s there,” Bahnsen said. “It was always in back of their minds. Now we’re here, and it’s a whole new season. They’re excited about it. I feel they still have the potential to do some good things.”
Especially on their home course. The U-Club was renovated a few years back with an eye on hosting NCAA events; the LSU men will host a regional next year. The level of difficulty on the greens got ramped up significantly in terms of slopes and undulations, making the Lady Tigers’ local knowledge a huge advantage.
“It’s our home course,” said Elise Bradley, a senior from Mandeville who won LSU’s regular-season tournament at the U-Club last year. “We’ve played it a million times. Avoiding the big numbers and playing smart is all you can do. Pars are good here.”
Still, advancing to the NCAA championship later this month in Eugene, Oregon, will be a tough task for LSU. Only six teams, plus the top three individual medalists from teams that don’t advance, will earn tickets to Eugene.
“As a freshman, you’re kind of oblivious to everything, so I never thought we wouldn’t make it,” said first-year Lady Tiger Kathleen Gallagher, daughter of former LSU golfer Cissye Meeks Gallagher and Golf Channel analyst Jim Gallagher Jr. “So when we got our bid, I thought we would make it no matter what. Not having those expectations at the beginning of the year wasn’t stressful.
“Now that it’s here, I’m thinking, ‘Let’s just go have fun. We have nothing to lose. If we make it to nationals, we make it. If not, it doesn’t mean we’re terrible people.’ ”
Duke comes in as the favorite, the top seed and highest ranked team in the field at No. 5. The Blue Devils, led by No. 5-ranked individual Leona Maguire, won regionals at LSU in 2002 and 2007 en route to the national championship.
Tee times begin at 7:30 a.m. each day. There is no admission charge.
NCAA women’s golf tournament, Baton Rouge regional
When: 7:30 a.m. Thursday to Saturday
Where: University Club
Who: 18 teams, six individuals
Tickets: No admission charge
Seed, team Ranking
1. Duke 5
2. Florida 7
3. Arizona State 10
4. Washington 13
5. Oregon 21
6. South Carolina 22
7. East Carolina 40
8. N.C. State 29
9. Houston 32
10. BYU 33
11. Augusta 45
12. LSU NR
13. New Mexico 49
14. Denver NR
15. Harvard NR
16. North Florida NR
17. Wichita State NR
18. Fairleigh Dickinson NR
Ji Eun Baik, Mississippi State
Ashley Holder, Central Florida
Meghan MacLaren, Florida International
Chieh Jessica Peng, Mississippi State
Emma Svensson, Central Arkansas
Madison Talley, Kansas State
Rankings from Golfweek top 50
Players to watch
SCHOOL: Arizona State
BRIEFLY: No. 3 in Golfweek collegiate rankings. Won Pac-12 Preview and had six other top-10s in nine starts.
BRIEFLY: Ranked No. 4 nationally, has win and four more top-10s this season.
SCHOOL: South Carolina
BRIEFLY: Ranked No. 7 nationally, has four runner-up finishes, including SEC championship.
SCHOOL: Central Florida
BRIEFLY: Ranked No. 26 nationally. Runner-up at AAC championship and medalist at LSU Tiger Golf Classic in 2014.
BRIEFLY: Second on team in stroke average (75.3). All-SEC in 2014-15, when she won LSU Tiger Golf Classic.