Athens, Ga. — Coming off its best finish at the NCAA Championships in two decades, the Georgia women’s golf team will christen its 2022-23 season on Monday when the Bulldogs begin play at the Cougar Classic. The College of Charleston is hosting the 54-hole event at Yeamans Hall Club, with 36 holes slated for Monday and the final round set for Tuesday.
“I’m very excited,” super senior Jenny Bae said. “I just can’t wait to go out and show what I’ve improved on over the summer. I also can’t wait for us to go back as a traveling team and represent Georgia. “
The Bulldogs return eight letterwinners from last year’s squad that advanced to the match play portion of the NCAA Championships for the first time since the current format was adopted in 2015. Georgia dropped a 3-2 decision Stanford, the eventual national champions, in the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs therefore tied for fifth nationally, their best effort since also finishing fifth in 2002.
“We had success in 2021, winning the Regional with a sweep and getting back to the national championship. Last year, we had to manage that,” Brewer said. “This year, it’s managing internal expectations of wanting to get back and make match play, but we all know that’s eight months away. You’ve got to build the right blocks. We’re confident we can do that and are super excited to get started.
“We’ve talked as a team, and we know we’re ‘old,’” Brewer added. “We have a bunch of players who have been here three, four years. We understand what a schedule and season looks like. Now, our goal is to try to be the No. 1 seed for Regionals on our home golf course. That’s the way we look at it.”
Despite returning the entire lineup for last year’s NCAA run, Georgia was ranked No. 17 by Golfweekand No. 19 in the Mizuno WGCA coaches poll entering this season.
“We’ve got some motivation,” Brewer said. “The national polls in the preseason, they consider us a fluke last year by where they’ve ranked us. To us, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder even though we’ve had a lot of postseason success the last two years.”
“It is exciting to have everyone return back,” senior Caterina Don said. “After nationals last year, we have a team of all returners. We have been excited to play since the last time we played together. We have been wanting to get the chance to prove to people that it was not just that week at nationals. We are a really good team, and we are ready.”
Georgia is one of four teams competing in the Cougar Classic that were featured in the preseason editions of the Golfweek and/or coaches polls. Florida State was tabbed No. 6 by the coaches and No. 11 in Golfweek, Kentucky was listed at No. 21 by Golfweek and No. 25 by the coaches and Ole Miss was dubbed No. 25 by Golfweek. Four additional teams in competing in Charleston also received votes in the coaches poll – Illinois, Miami (Fla.), Michigan State and UCF. Rounding out the schools in the Cougar Classic are Charleston, Clemson, East Carolina, Furman, Louisville, North Carolina, N.C. State, Penn State, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Georgia’s lineup for the opener will feature Bae and fellow super senior Jo Hua Hung, seniors Don and Céleste Dao and sophomore LoraLie Cowart. In addition, senior Caroline Craig will compete as an individual.
This year will mark the Bulldogs’ ninth appearance in the Cougar Classic since the tournament’s inception in 2003. Georgia won the team title in both 2008 and 2009, with Marta Silva Zamora capturing medalist honors in 2009.
Last season, Georgia fired a school-record team tally of 14-under in the second round in Charleston. The Bulldogs posted a 12-under 852 effort overallen route to finishing fourth in the team field.
“It’s a familiar golf course but at the same time, conditions change,” Brewer said. “You never truly know if it’s going to produce as many birdies, but it’s a wonderful place to start with a top-level field. The team is excited. That’s the important part. As long as they’re excited to go there, I know we will go play well.”
“Thinking of (last year) gives you confidence our team is almost the same as last year when we went there and broke a school record,” Bae said. “We are going to go there and try to break it again because last year, we didn’t win. We are going to try to be better and break it again.”
Bae and Don were the only golfers in Georgia’s lineup for every team event last season. Bae led the Bulldogs with four top-10 individual finishes, including second- and sixth-place showings at the NCAA Albuquerque Regional and NCAA Championships, respectively. Don posted three top-10 individual efforts. Both golfers used the summer to address aspects of their games.
“I was working on a new putting grip,” Bae said. “My coach and I back home tried a few different putting grips that would allow me to line up the ball better. That was mainly what I focused on for two months, and it’s ready to go.”
“Over the summer I worked with my swing coach,” Don said. “I also worked with visualizing my shot a little more rather than being a free swing golfer on the golf course. When you are struggling and your swing doesn’t work, you have to figure out another way, and I just got my new driver in yesterday. I am excited.
“I think we are confident, not because of the things we did at Nationals, but because of all of the work that we have put in individually over the summer and together since we have been back,” Don added. “I think that is why we can walk in confident that we did our best to prepare. Whatever is going to happen is just going to happen.”
Play will begin on Monday with an 8:30 shotgun start, and Georgia will be paired with Florida State and Miami for the two opening rounds. The Bulldogs’ playing five will open play on holes Nos. 3-6, while Craig will start at No. 18. Live scoring will be available via golfstat.com.