Alright guys, it’s been a minute since I’ve blogged but I had to share about my amazing experience at the NCAA Women’s Div 1 Golf Championship just outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The tournament was held at Blessings Golf Club this year, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks, and wow, it truly is a blessing on earth! It was my second time in Arkansas, and I’ve truly fallen in love with the Natural State. If you haven’t been, it is beautiful with all different types of terrain, hence its nickname. It could also be named the Southern Hospitality State because everyone there is so stinkin’ nice.
Northwest Arkansas is breathtaking with it’s lusciously green forestry, fields, and lakes. It’s about a 3 hour drive to the Ozarks which is pretty cool because I’m obsessed with the show “Ozarks” (which I think is actually filmed in Georgia but I digress).
Since we are talking about the beauty of the state, Blessings Golf Club is no shortage of natural beauty. It was founded and opened by John Tyson of Tyson chicken. Yes, that John Tyson, who is sweet as honey might I add (he also has the softest hands I’ve ever touched. So random but I should’ve asked him what cream he uses, I swear). There is a floodplain that runs through the golf course as well as a 65 foot plateau which the 12th, 13th, and 14th holes sit atop. If the sound of that walk doesn’t scare you, the golf course also plays from 7700 yards from the tips. Robert Trent Jones, Jr. was the original golf course designer but Kyle Phillips redesigned the course in 2016, shortening it by 1.8 miles. To give you an even better idea of the difficulty of this course, Mr. Tyson shared a story with me about Razorback Stacey Lewis leading a tournament one year with an 85. A freaking 85. That was probably enough to make Tyson re-think the difficulty of the golf course, to which now Razorback senior Kaylee Benton said it plays “difficult but fair.”
Check out this clip of me with Director of Agronomy at Blessings Golf Club, Troy Fink. Troy and his crew were on double duty this week (and will be for the men as well) which was so impressive and inspiring to me. Next time you are at your course, make sure to thank the crew that makes the golf course possible. Without them, the enjoyment of golf wouldn’t exist. They are most certainly the underrated team of golf courses.
Now let’s dive into the golf, y’all - btw I found myself saying that a lot this week! These girls put on one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen not just in college golf but golf itself. They were thrown so many curveballs with the weather delays but that didn’t mess up their flow. The tournament had to shorten the 72 hole stroke play portion to 54 holes to due weather, and Maria Fassi won the stroke play by shooting 5 under in the final round for a final score of 8 under.
Once the stroke play portion was over and the 8 teams faced off in match play, it was a wild ride. Number 8 seed Auburn upset Number 1 seed Texas, which I was bummed about because I was rooting for my hometown girl, Emilee Hoffman! However, it’s hard to be upset over an awesome fight by Auburn to advance. That’s what is so great about match play - it’s really anyone’s game. Unfortunately Auburn didn’t make it to the finals, and neither did Arizona (defeated by Duke) who was looking pretty promising from the beginning as they won the national title in 2018. In the anchor match, Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho booted out host Arkansas advancing Wake to the semifinals. In the end, Duke and Wake Forest went head to head for the national title. If there was one thing I learned by watching the quarter- and semifinals from the week, it was to not expect the leader early on in the match to keep it up until the end. Wake Forest was leading on the front nine, but once they made the turn, Duke brought their A game and pulled off winning 3 matches, all in extra holes. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions and a crazy long week! I’d be sleeping for three days straight after this tournament if I were on any of the teams, especially Duke!
The last match play event I went to was the 2018 Ryder Cup which was amazing and fun, of course, but the US team was absolutely destroyed by the European team and didn’t put up that exciting of a fight to make a comeback. The US team didn’t seem to gel as well as the Europeans did together, which is a very integral part of winning a team event.
The one thing that has stuck out to me in college golf, and other college athletics and women’s sports, is that they truly do it for the love of the game. It was best put by Maria Fassi, who won the individual title and said -
Don’t get me wrong, I know professionals and men play because they truly love their sport and are passionate. However, at some point, it becomes a job rather than a passion as the money and fame grow.
Not only do these girls play for the love of the game, but they play because they love their team. The bonds I observed over this past week between the girls on each team were by far as close as close could get. It made me sentimental as I remember all the amazing times with my college teammates, the greatest memories being off the course while traveling, practicing, studying, and hanging out together.
Some of my favorite observations this week were:
While outside the hotel, hearing Virginia Elena Carta tell her teammates to pack up their bags the night before semifinals and finals, in case they didn’t advance and had to fly straight home. (Spoiler: they won). She was undoubtedly the mama bear of the group, showing her care by advising her teammates on what to do in order to make their experience easier and seamless. This was confirmed by Coach Dan Brooks who said Carta was “the glue” to their team during his speech at the award ceremony.
Speaking of Coach Dan Brooks, he choked up when asked “what drives you to this excellence?”. It was easy to tell that his amazing student-athletes are the reason why he has been able to win 7 national championship titles.
When Haley Moore’s teammates mobbed her after making the putt to advance them to the semifinals, similar to the scene in 2018 when she made the winning putt to win finals. Moore has been bullied and made fun of her whole life for her weight, but her teammates and golf have been her support system, encouragement, and a monumental part in gaining confidence
Watching Arizona State’s team bond over ice cream (and trying to catch whip cream in their mouths!), meals, practice, and more. I was able to chat with the coach, Missy Far-Kaye about a day in the life of a Sun Devil, who seems to have a pretty good grasp at building camaraderie with her 5 national championship wins.
Check out my interview with her as Arizona State is the host for the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Golf Championship for the next 3 years (2020-2022).
University of Arkansas and Blessings Golf Club put on an amazing event this year, and I have no doubt Arizona State and Grayhawk will follow suit. Congratulations to Duke Women’s Golf for winning their 7th national championship title. I can’t wait to see who will take it home next year!
Out of all the events I’ve covered, college golf is probably among my favorite. It brings me back to my glory days (although I’m actually a much better player now!) and reminds me why we play this game in the first place. It’s to play for a bigger reason other than yourself.
It’s to play for the love of the game.