Days away from the final women’s golf tournament, Vanderbilt went back to the basics.
Last Thursday, the Commodores pulled out their putters, lined the ball up from six feet out and repeated the same motion over and over again.
A routine that may seem unnecessary at this juncture in the season, Vanderbilt knows perfect putting can’t be overlooked — especially this week and especially on this course.
The Commodores host the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship at Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin. It marks the first time the Middle Tennessee area has hosted a Division I national championship in any sport.
One-hundred and twenty-six golfers will compete in the four-day, 72-hole tournament that starts Tuesday on the par-72, 6,377-yard North Course.
“Iron shots, approaching into the greens and putting will be much more difficult than we’ve played throughout the year,” Vanderbilt senior Marina Alex said. “Now that they’ve changed the grass they bounce much more and it just makes it difficult to get the ball close to the hole. I think that will shock some teams who are just not used to it. They expect their shots to be close and they’re not going to be. That’s something that will benefit us.”
Last summer, after the bent grass on the greens of the North Course’s reached its life expectancy of 20 years, the club decided to install Bermuda grass, a thicker blade that flourishes in humid environments.
Since then, Vanderbilt has tried to keep up with the new surface of its home course. “The Bermuda greens make it very challenging,” Vanderbilt junior and Spring Hill native Lauren Stratton said. “They are much firmer and much faster. The bent was just very soft. You could fly it right at the pin and it would stop. Now that they are Bermuda you’ve got to make sure you take into account the run out of your golf ball. There is a lot more into it.”
Fifteen of the 24 teams have played on the North Course since the installation of Bermuda grass last summer. Fourteen participated in the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview last September and UCLA, the defending national champ, captured the team title.
But no one has played on it more than Vanderbilt.
Alex, the two-time SEC Player of the Year, says newcomers will be shocked at the speed of the greens, especially the par-four second hole. With a water hazard to the left of the hole, a hard approach shot can carom off the green and into the drink.
“Two is going to be a sleeper hole. I think people will take it for granted,” Alex said. “A lot of girls will walk off having just made a bogey and not know how that happened. The green is pretty sloped from right to left. Now that the greens are much firmer and the balls are bouncing it is very easy to lose your second shot left in the water and over the green.”
Knowing for the last two years they would host the national championship, the Commodores breathed a huge sigh of relief two weeks ago.
Needing to crack the top eight of the 24-team Central Regional in Columbus, Ohio, Vanderbilt made a huge push. After sitting in a tie for eighth on the first day, the Commodores catapulted into second the next day and stayed there until the end of the three-day tournament to qualify.
Since then, Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen has tried to create a relaxed environment. Last week, the team split into three groups and embarked on hot-air balloon flights around the area. Plus, Allen’s friend and country musician Vince Gill will play a private concert for the tournament field on Sunday night.
“We want this week to be a week of being out on the golf course every day but also be a week where we can rest, relax and have fun,” Allen said.
2012 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, Tuesday-Friday at Vanderbilt Legends Club, North Course, Franklin
How they got here
The top eight teams from three 24-team regionals qualified for the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship. The top two individuals at each regional not associated with the top eight teams also qualified.
East Regional: 1. South Carolina, 2. Texas A&M, 3. Texas, 4. Alabama, 5. Florida, 6. Arizona State, 7. Michigan State, 8. Duke. Individuals: Kelsey Vines (Oklahoma State) and Margarita Ramos (Arizona)
Central Regional: 1. USC, 2. Vanderbilt, 3. Purdue, 4. Tennessee, 5. Virginia, 6. Ohio State, 7. North Carolina State, 8. Arkansas. Individuals: Maria Salinas (Florida State) and Rocio Sanchez Lobato (Georgia)
West Regional: 1. UCLA, 2. LSU, 3. Pepperdine, 4. Colorado, 5. Baylor, 6. Stanford, 7. North Carolina, 8. Oklahoma. Individuals: Kimberly Kaufman (Texas Tech) and
Gabriella Dominguez (Texas Tech)
2011 team champ: UCLA
2011 individual champ: Austin Ernst, LSU
Tickets: An all-session pass for the four-day tournament costs $25 for adults and $15 for youth. Daily tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for children. Tickets can be purchased the Vanderbilt ticket office in the McGugin Center, online or each day of the competition at Legends Club.
• Who to watch: Defending champ Austin Ernst from LSU leads a strong list of title contenders in the 126-golfer field. Ernst, just a sophomore, placed second at the West Regional. Nine of the nation’s top 10 golfers, according to Golfweek.com and Golfstat.com, will be on hand, including top-ranked Lindy Duncan of Duke, No. 2 Emily Tubert of Arkansas and third-ranked Marina Alex of Vanderbilt. In addition, Lisa McCloskey (USC), Catherina O’Donnell (North Carolina) and Katerina Ruzickova (Texas A&M) all claimed regional titles.
• Back again: Fifteen of the 24 teams have played at Vanderbilt Legends Club’s North Course since the installation of Bermuda Greens last summer. UCLA, Alabama, Arizona State, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Duke, USC, LSU, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee and Purdue all joined Vanderbilt in the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview last September. Texas checked out the course last month when the Longhorns played Vanderbilt in a dual.