The Tulane women’s golf team already has accomplished two of its three preseason goals: repeat as Conference USA champion and qualify for the NCAA championship.
The third one is the hardest: improve on last year’s school-record ninth-place finish at nationals. But coach Lorne Don believes nothing is out of reach for this group. The 24-team, four-round tournament begins Tuesday at Tulsa Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“We’re right on track for that,” Don said. “We’re starting to shoot a lot of under-par team rounds, and that’s what you need to do if you want to compete against the top teams.”
A first round like the one Tulane had at the East Regional in Tallahassee, Florida, would help. The Green Wave blistered the course with an 8-under-par 280, the third-lowest score any team shot in a round at any of the three regional sites. That number allowed the Wave to qualify comfortably for NCAAs despite some hiccups in the final two rounds.
Conference USA Player of the Year Emily Penttila holed out from the fairway for an eagle on her first hole of regionals, kick-starting a course-record 7-under 65, but she hardly was a one-woman show for Tulane. Freshman Belen Goicoechea carded the team’s low score on the second day, and all five golfers were at par or better for at least one round.
The Wave will need that balance in Tulsa, where it will try to exceed outside expectations. Its ranking of 30 by GolfWeek is above only four teams in the NCAA tournament.
“We have a bit of a chip on our shoulder because we know we’re better than that,” Don said. “If we do our thing, play our game and execute correctly, then we’re going to be one of the top teams there.”
They have reasons to be confident. Other than Goicoechea, all four golfers in the lineup participated in the NCAA tournament last year. And all five played at the Tulsa Country Club in September as part of the NCAA Fall Preview; Tulane is one of only nine teams in the field with that experience.
“We won’t be quite as nervous as last year,” said junior Gemma Dryburgh, the lone upperclassman in the lineup. “We all believe we can do it. It’s a huge advantage knowing the course coming in and being able to prepare for it.”