UT's international influence not unique among NCAA tournament teams

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 7:31pm

When Nathalie Mansson began searching for colleges, she did so with a strict criteria.

The aspiring Division I golfer wanted somewhere warm but not overwhelmingly hot. So after she visited the campuses of Arizona, Florida and Tennessee, the decision was easy.

“It was too dry or too humid so Tennessee was a good between,” Mansson said, “and closer to a home-like environment.”

With home more than a thousand miles and an ocean away in Stockholm, Sweden, finding a comfortable landing spot to develop as a student and golfer was not a foregone conclusion.

Four years later, Mansson believes her decision has been affirmed as she leads the Lady Vols into the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, which begins on Tuesday at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.  Mansson is part of a diverse field that includes golfers from 24 countries and Puerto Rico. The Lady Vols alone represent three countries, with Denmark native Sara Monberg in addition to five players from the U.S. Host Vanderbilt also has international flavor with Irina Gabasa (Philippines) and Gaby Balit (Canada).

Of the 24 teams at the Vanderbilt Legends Club, only five field all American squads.

But recruiting out of the country is hardly a recent development in college golf.

“Even when I played in college [at Alabama] we had two Swedish players on my team in the mid-80s and late 80s,” UT coach Judi Pavon said. “I think we coaches know we’ve kind of have our eye on the American kids we want and if we don’t get them we’ll go overseas and try to find somebody.”

Mansson has flourished in her new country, becoming the first Tennessee player in the 20-year history of the program to reach four national tournaments.

The senior ranks second on the team with a stroke average of 75.17. She has three top 10 finishes and placed 26th a couple weeks at the Central Regional to help Tennessee finish fourth and qualify for the national championship.

With a degree in criminal justice within her reach, Mansson intends to juggle her final semester of classes and the qualifying tournament for the LPGA Tour in the fall.

She isn’t unfamiliar with playing at the highest level. In 2009 she advanced to the quarterfinals of the Ladies British Amateur Championship. 
Her biggest golf moment came in 2010 at the European Ladies Team Championship. Representing the Swedish national team she made a 12-foot putt in a sudden-death playoff hole to edge host Spain.

“Fifty people on the green were completely quiet,” Mansson recalled. “I love extra pressure. I play better under pressure. I just like to be in that position.”