Getting to the NCAA Championship isn’t easy. Winning is even tougher. The No. 4 South Carolina women’s golf team advanced to the NCAA Championship for the third straight year and for the twelfth time in 16 years under head coach Kalen Anderson. While making the finals is a goal and perhaps an expectation for the program, the challenge in winning is not just because the Gamecocks will be competing with 29 other great teams, but because the format is different than how tournaments are played for most of the year as it combines stroke play and match play.
“A lot of us have played a lot of tournaments back home that have stroke play and match play,” said Mia Sandtorv Lussand, a freshman from Norway. “It’s a lot of golf, but I think it’s a good format to play for the last tournament. It’s fun. It’s different, and I like it.”
“I really like the format,” said Louise Rydqvist, a sophomore from Sweden. “If you make the match play, anything can happen from there. I’ve played a lot of tournaments in Europe, and a few of them have the same format, with a lot of match play. I really enjoy it and think it’s really fun.”
“It’s not really about the format,” said Hannah Darling, a sophomore from Scotland. “It’s still golf. We play 18 holes at a time. It is different because we go all the way out west, and it’s hot. It’s in a desert. The course is pretty difficult, but I think we’re more prepared this year than we were last year. Most of us have played out there now.”
The NCAA Championship runs May 19-24 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. for the third consecutive season. Teams will compete in three rounds of stroke play, which is how they normally compete. After that, the top 15 teams will play another round to determine the top eight teams for match play.
“I like our depth, and I like our experience there,” said head coach Kalen Anderson. “We played this golf course in March when we were out in Tempe (for another tournament). This spring, we have made an effort to play more disciplined golf, and this course requires discipline. They key is going to be staying loose and having fun with it.”
“It’s been such an awesome vibe all year long. We’re all really close. We’ll go in with high goals.”
It’s a lot of golf in a short time, so obviously getting off to a good start is just one of the keys in making the cut.
“Coming out pretty hot the first couple of days is important, so we can get ourselves up there,” Rydqvist said. “Then it will be super-important to stay hydrated and fuel ourselves with good food. We have to keep our bodies healthy. We had some issues with sickness last year.”
“From my perspective, it’s like two different tournaments,” said Mathilde Claisse, a senior from France. “With the stroke play, winning is important, but it doesn’t give you the NCAA title. Being in the top eight is good, and then you focus on match play. Once we get there, we have to have great preparation and be ready for the first round. That’s the round that has been kicking us in the butt sometimes. Having a great round can set the tone for the week.”
Some schools are not totally unprepared for the match-play format, including South Carolina. The SEC changed its championship format to have match play in 2017. Couple that with the fact that many of the Gamecocks have been to the NCAA Championship at least once and have played this course before.
“It’s definitely an advantage having people who have played out there before,” Rydqvist said. “It’s such a tough course, so any rounds that we’ve played out there before is good for us.”
“SECs definitely helped in preparing us for the national championship,” Lussand said. “I think it’s good for the SECs to have match play. Not all of the conferences have match play. I think we sort of hit a wall the last time, and we don’t want to have the same feeling at nationals. That’s motivation and good preparation for us.”
“I didn’t get a full experience of it last year because I was sick, so I couldn’t play the third round,” Darling said. “I’m just as excited to experience it as anyone else. It’s going to be nice to soak it all in, make sure we enjoy it, but also, there’s a job to do. We do play SECs like this with three rounds and then match play. Pretty much all of us Europeans are used to playing rounds of stroke play and then going into match play. Job number one is to make the match play.
“The course is very nice. The NCAA does a very nice job. We get to stay at a nice hotel. We’re all very excited for the breakfast there! There’s avocado toast, pancakes, eggs, breakfast potatoes, and lots of other things. It’s really good!”
The Gamecocks are a very close-knit team that won’t just be happy to be there. Instead, they hope to bring home a championship that can be shared with each other.
“We have such an awesome team environment,” Rydqvist said. “It’s been such an awesome vibe all year long. We’re all really close. We’ll go in with high goals. I’m just looking forward to all of the golf and hanging out with my best friends. Hopefully, we can achieve some really cool things out there together.”
“I love being a part of this team,” Lussand said. “All the girls are my best friends. We have so much fun. We have a good laugh, and we learn from each other.”
“It should be a really fun tournament,” said Katherine Muzi, a graduate student from California who played at the National Championship last year while playing for Southern Cal. “This is a really special team. The European players are more mature than I was at this stage in life. I’ve really learned a lot from them. I think all of us know things we didn’t do well the last time we were there, and we can incorporate that with the things we’ve done right, so hopefully the third time is the charm!”