Vanderbilt golfers relaxed in return to home course

Thursday, September 20, 2012 at 10:28pm

Having hosted a national championship, no task seems too tall.

That’s exactly how Vanderbilt women’s golf coach Greg Allen feels heading into the Mason Rudolph Invitational, which begins Friday at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.

Nearly four months have passed since the Commodores welcomed 23 teams and more than 120 golfers to the North Course for the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship. Five of those teams return to Vanderbilt’s annual — and only — invitational, which, suffice to say, has provided less stress for Allen and the Commodores. 

“There is no question I have been in relax mode this week in terms of operations of the tournament,” Allen said. “It just seems like it is on cruise control and running itself. The guys at Legends really do a great job at running big-time tournaments. ... It allows us to be more relaxed and me as a coach to be more relaxed and be able to focus on my own team little bit more.”

The last time Vanderbilt teed off at Legends, the Commodores put together the best final round of any team. Their fourth-round score of 285 catapulted them five spots from 16th and provided solace after mammoth struggles in the first and third rounds.

An 11th place finish at nationals might not have surpassed Vanderbilt’s expectations, but it was a welcome sight after falling to 22nd in the first round. Allen is also quick to point out the Commodores only finished 15 strokes behind national champion Alabama.

“They had their back up against the wall twice,” Allen said. “We played poorly the first round and they responded. They played poorly the third round and they responded. I wish we could have kept playing because we were really playing well that last day. Looking back, I just wish we could find two more strokes to finish in the top 10.”

The Commodores began the new season with a promising start, taking fourth at the Cougar Classic two weeks ago in Charleston, S.C. Senior Lauren Stratton tied for third and sophomore Kendall Martindale  tied for sixth in a field that featured 10 of the top 15 teams in the country.

One day before the team left for the tournament, Stratton was involved in a car accident after she left practice at Legends. Her car was totaled but the All-American walked away with stiffness and showed little signs of pain at the Cougar Classic.

This isn’t her first encounter with injury or illness. Last year, she, unknowingly, played a tournament with a kidney stone.

“Lauren is playing with a purpose and there is no question she wants to win the Mason Rudolph,” Allen said. “It was almost like she was looking past Charleston. This has been on her radar probably since the national championship ended in May. ... We just got to keep her in the present and not let her get ahead of herself out there. She did such a good job of that in Charleston that I think we’ll see the true Lauren Stratton this week and see a great performance out of her.”

The free three-day tournament tees off at 8 a.m. and includes 15 teams. The men’s team and first-year coach Scott Limbaugh are also hosting a tournament on the club’s South Course. Defending tournament champ Middle Tennessee State leads the 16-team field.