Upstate Opens Season At The TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout
Spartanburg, S.C. - With five newcomers and
just three returning letterwinners from the 2009-10 squad, USC
Upstate head coach Todd Lawton would not have been criticized for
easing the team's way into the 2010-11 season. However, Lawton has
chosen to take the women's golf team, now in its sixth year of
existence, into the toughest season-opening tournament since the
inception of the program in 2005. The Spartans will be one of six
teams competing in the inaugural TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout on
Monday, Sept. 5 in Ponte Vedra Beach Fla. The teams will play on
the world famous Stadium Course at the TPC Sawgrass facility.
A-Sun foe Jacksonville will serve as host of the tournament which will consist of a small, but strong field of six teams. Four of the six teams finished the 2009-10 season ranked in the top 75 in the Golfstat ranking. Florida ended the year ranked 25th, while Chattanooga was 39th. Coastal Carolina (61st) and Central Florida (69th) were also ranked in the top 75. Three of the six teams - Chattanooga, Coastal Carolina and Florida - advanced to the NCAA Regionals last season.
The TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout will employ a unique tournament format. Not only is the entire 36-hole tournament being played on just one day, but the four player scores that make up the team total for each round will come from six players and not the typical five-player lineup. The Stadium Course will play at 6,103 yards and is a par-72 layout.
Lawton will send a talented, yet inexperienced group to the TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout, with four of the five newcomers seeing action. Seniors Johanna Ebenhag and Summer Wall will lend veteran leadership to the team, while freshmen Madison Bryant, Amanda Hall, Rachel Lewis and Taylor Pleier will see their first collegiate action. Hall, Lewis and Pleier qualified for the tournament in the top three positions. The pressure of qualifying for their first college tournament did not seem to phase the three newcomers, while Bryant was solid in the sixth position.
Though a young squad, Lawton hopes to see improvement in the team this season. The Spartans lacked the level of consistency that would lead to finishes in the top half of the field last year. There also wasn't a lot of depth that would deliver solid scores through the No. 5 position. With the infusion of talent and experienced returnees, Lawton can expect to see more consistency without the wide spread in scoring from the No. 1 to the No. 5 positions on the team. At the same time, young golfers need to be able to battle through periods when the scores just don't reflect the effort put into the game. Keeping the younger players confident could, perhaps, be Lawton's toughest challenge as the Spartans make their way through the season in preparation for the A-Sun Tournament next April.
Freshman Infusion Set To Make Mark At
In what could very well be categorized as a rebuilding year, the Upstate women's golf team will rely heavily on the talents of five freshman who appear poised to make their mark in the program. Not since Upstate founded the program and started play in 2005-06 is so much expected from a group of freshmen. With just three players from last year's squad on this year's team, the freshman will be forced into action. To start the season, four of the five freshman will suit up for the TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout, making up two-thirds of the six-person team for the tournament.
Ebenhag Ready For Leadership Role
Johanna Ebenhag was Upstate's first foreign-born women's golf recruit to come to Upstate. She is now set to take over the leadership role on the team as a senior. She has been a regular in the lineup since her freshman season and is expected to once again bolster the lineup while helping the five freshmen adjust to the college game and college life. She played in nine events last season and lowered her stroke average by 2.3 strokes from 2008-09. She turned in her best round, a 77, to lead her to her best tournament finish with a 29th-place effort at the Holiday Inn Express Hatter Classic last fall.
Looking At The Newcomers
Head coach Todd Lawton has no choice but to rely on the five freshman who are starting their collegiate careers this fall. Though young and inexperienced, the group has a bevy of achievement on the high school and junior golf circuits. Local product Taylor Pleier was an all-state player and was a key member of the juggernaut Dorman High School program that is consistently one of the top two programs in the state. Amanda Hall, who is from Fort Mill, was also an all-state selection and helped lift her Fort Mill High School club to the most success it has had in the history of the program. Rachel Lewis may have the most difficult transition to make as any of the freshmen, crossing the Atlantic Ocean from her native Wales to play at Upstate. She is the reigning Welsh Girls' Champion and a member of the Welsh Girls' National Team that plays internationally. Madison Bryant (Chapin) and Lucia Oelsner (Mauldin HS) had solid careers as well.
Building On A-Sun Championships Finish
Though Johanna Ebenhag is the only player slated to play in the TPC Sawgrass Labor Day Shootout who played in last spring's A-Sun Championships, head coach Todd Lawton hopes the program can build on the progress made in the event. The Spartans moved up from the 2009 tournament to finish eighth in the spring. The team's adjusted how it approached its rounds and Lawton would like to see that continue.