NORMAN — Say hello to Oklahoma women’s golf.
The Sooners begin a three-day run as NCAA regional hosts today at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club and the Sooners, if not overwhelming favorites to win the regional, are at least an overwhelming favorite to place in the top eight and return to the NCAA tournament, which begins May 21 in Athens, Ga.
Mostly, all the Sooners can hope for is to continue and improve upon the ride that began last year at this time, when they went from obscurity into the heart of the national championship picture.
“It’s been so fun and it’s really crazy,” said Emily Collins, who plays No. 4 in OU’s five-player lineup. “Coming in, we really didn’t know the potential that we really had, so it’s exciting.
“I think we can still do better things.”
Here’s a refresher.
A year ago, in Erie, Colo., at the NCAA West Regional, OU began the final round in 14th place needing to leapfrog six spots to reach the NCAA tournament field.
That day, Chirapat Jao-Javenil fired a 2-under par 70 to secure a fifth-place individual finish, while her teammates added rounds of 71, 73 and 75. That put OU in eighth place, earning the regional’s final qualifying position for the national tournament.
Once there, at Vanderbilt’s Legends Club North Course, in Franklin, Tenn., OU finished an amazing sixth, while Jao-Javenil won medalist honors, claiming a personal national championship after posting a 72-hole total of 6-under par 282.
Experiencing success left the Sooners wanting to experience more success. Or, perhaps, wanting to show everybody their success was no fluke.
“I think we feel like we still need to prove ourselves and keep improving,” Jao-Javenil said Wednesday, after a final regional practice round. “I think throughout the whole year, that’s what we’ve been focusing on, trying to validate (our success).”
Heading into NCAA play today, the Sooners have put together an historic regular season.
Over the school year, OU has placed among the top three in seven of nine tournaments. Three of those have been runner-up finishes and three have been outright victories.
The Sooners began the season No. 13 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and have climbed as high as No. 2. When they tee off this morning, they will be carrying a No. 4 ranking.
Also, OU’s on course to set program scoring records on just about every conceivable front, stats that have been fueled in part by the three lowest 54-hole scores in program history: 848 (16-under par at the Alamo Invitational), 859 (5-under at the Susie Maxwell Berning Classic) and 862 (2-under at the Clover Cup), all of which were victories.
Javenil, with her best-in-program-history 72.26 scoring average, is No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. Meanwhile, Anne-Catherine Tanguay, momentarily, at least, has supplanted Jao-Javenil as the squad’s No. 1 player. And still it’s the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 positions, occupied by Kaitlyn Rohrback, Collins and Taylor Schmidt, that may be most responsible for the Sooners’ success.
Those three players carry scoring averages ranging from Collins’ 74.15 to Schmidt’s 76.19. Anytime the bottom of your lineup’s producing like that, your program’s bound to make historic strides.
“Any tournament we go to,” Collins said, “we all know that (individually) we have a chance of playing the best out of everyone, which is exciting because it makes a good team.”
Well, certainly good enough to secure a top eight regional finish and to head back to the NCAA tournament. After that, who knows?
OU women’s golf is navigating uncharted waters.
“The girls have really done a good job,” said the architect of the program’s turnaround, fourth-year coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell. “Last year we were close, but we didn’t know how close we were.”
As it turned out, very close.
“Everybody’s really playing well,” Drouin-Luttrell said.
Today, that’s a good place to start.
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