By Julie Williams
Bottled-water showers usually are reserved for the postseason, but South Carolina made an exception Tuesday. Considering the competition, a season-opening victory on a steamy Florida day was cause for the Gamecocks to collect every bottle within sight of the 18th green.
The Gamecocks poured them on their senior, Frenchwoman Justine Dreher, as she closed out the ANNIKA Intercollegiate Presented by 3M with a one-shot victory. Then they poured them on head coach Kalen Harris, whose leadership for the past eight years is a big reason South Carolina left Reunion with a trophy.
For the first time all day, South Carolina had breathing room. A final-round 6-under 282 helped the Gamecocks to a 10-under total and a seven-shot victory over Arizona. Oklahoma State was another shot back at 2 under, and Stanford was fourth at even par for 54 holes.
“It was a lot closer than it came out to be in the end,” Harris said.
In college golf, it’s a luxury not to know which score will be thrown out, and Harris had it on Tuesday. She followed the scoreboard closely, but delivered only this line to her team: “You can’t make enough birdies.”
Freshman Nanna Madsen was 1 over after 12, and saw Harris at that green. Madsen asked if 1 or 2 under for the day would be good enough.
“Yeah, just do that,” Harris told her. True to her word, Madsen delivered a 2-under 70.
As a team, South Carolina made nine birdies on the back nine. By the time Madsen, in the No. 2 spot, reached the 18th, her teammates already were plotting their celebration.
By Julie Williams
Intensity is etched into Justine Dreher’s face even when she’s not on the golf course. It was there when she came off the Reunion Resort’s 18th green on Sunday after the first round of the ANNIKA Intercollegiate with 4-under 68 and still there on Monday after she posted 68 again. After 36 holes at the ANNIKA, Dreher tops the individual leaderboard and her team leads by two shots.
Dreher’s start at the ANNIKA, her first start in burgundy this fall, is spurred by annoyance and maybe some impatience. Several players at Reunion have stories of competing for their respective nations at the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan last month. Dreher wanted to go for France, but wasn’t selected for the team.
“I had a decent summer but I didn’t do as well as I wanted,” she said. She points specifically to the European Ladies’ Amateur in Estonia in July, where she finished T-53.
It’s been a long month in Columbia, S.C., practicing and qualifying and waiting to compete. Dreher says she didn’t perform as well as she would have liked in qualifying. In competition, however, Dreher keeps making birdies. She has 10 so far, and two bogeys.
From a player standpoint, a month of school before teeing it up in competition for the first time can be brutal. From head coach Kalen Harris’ perspective, it’s a blessing.
“I’ve felt more prepared with this team than any other,” said Harris, now into year No. 8 as head coach.
In describing the dynamic of her Gamecocks in the past few years, Harris has often said that there’s no superstar on her team. Last season, when South Carolina won twice, four players averaged 74 or better. Dreher was the low Gamecock six times, and dropped her scoring average two shots from freshman year.
Dreher’s intensity is perfect for maintaining a competitive culture at South Carolina. She still talks like a mother hen. So far, her role on the team has been helping freshmen Nanna Madsen and Ainhoa Olarra get adjusted.
Of the two newcomers, only Madsen traveled to Reunion with the team, and posted rounds of 69-75. Madsen, of Denmark, entered college as Golfweek’s top-ranked freshman – she is ranked No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. She just couldn’t get putts to drop on Monday.
“It’s unbelievable how good she is,” Dreher says.
For Madsen, it’s unbelievable how good team golf can be.
“I like to have people to share the winnings and the good things with,” she said.
With the second-round lead at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, South Carolina sheds more of its underdog status. The same teams tend to contend for the national championship and fill up the top-10 ranking spots in women’s golf, and Dreher says South Carolina, under Harris’ direction, will get there.
“(South Carolina) doesn’t have a very broad history,” Dreher said. “Since (Harris) has been the coach here, our program has gotten so much better.”
The key to South Carolina’s dynamic, Dreher says, is that the roster “changes all the time,” evidenced by Dreher qualifying into the No. 4 spot, only to lead the tournament by four shots.
The Gamecocks will enter the final round of the ANNIKA with six teams trailing them by seven or fewer shots. South Carolina leads Arizona by one shot, Northwestern by three and last year’s powerhouse USC by six.
“The lead is a nice place to be in this type of field,” Harris said. “…This group is well-prepared and it’s a great experience to get this early.”
By Julie Williams
In the first round of the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, the highest score in the 60-player field was an 80. Not a single player went more than eight shots over par at Reunion Resort. This is significant.
In women’s college golf, scoring feats, first-time NCAA Championship winners (or qualifiers) and start-up programs are the best way to not only judge the game’s progress, but the deepening of the talent pool. During the last five years, “parity” has become a buzzword.
For all this talk about depth, there is still sometimes a lack of any tangible evidence that the game is moving forward. That takes a commitment from the people most involved in the game, and it happened Sunday night at Reunion when the ANNIKA Foundation and the Haskins Commission unveiled the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M. It’s a huge – and heavy – carrot at the top of the women’s game and that, too, is significant.
“When I was informed there was no Haskins Award for women, I couldn’t believe it,” Sorenstam told a crowd of collegians Sunday night (there is, however, a player-of-the-year award given each spring by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association). Sorenstam lent her name to a female version of the Haskins Award when the opportunity presented itself in 2013.
The ANNIKA Intercollegiate was created as a place to celebrate the award winner and the hardware itself, which came to Reunion locked up in a wooden box that looked more secret than a scene from Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail. The base alone weighed 65 pounds, and a circle of blown glass was custom-made for the top. Sorenstam’s face is etched into the glass bottom along with name plates for each winner.
UCLA sophomore Alison Lee’s name will be the first, 43 years after Ben Crenshaw’s name graced the Haskins Award in 1971 while he played at Texas (he also won in ’72 and ’73).
“It’s only been 43 years, so it’s about time they made one for us girls,” Lee joked at the podium as she accepted the award.
The next ANNIKA Award winner likely will be one of the 60 players who sat in a Reunion ballroom Sunday night and learned the story of the Haskins Award. Both awards are voted on by players, coaches and golf media, so bringing awareness only increases the validity.
After Lee laid eyes on and accepted the award, she was asked to pen a quick and private note to stuff into the base of the trophy. It’s a tradition that will be passed along to the next 24 winners before the base is opened in 2039 and each winner’s message is made public.
It introduces another buzzword: history. That gives the game legs on which to stand and grow.