After failing to qualify for the NCAA Championship each of the last six seasons, the Georgia women’s golf team has returned to national prominence, concluding the 2015-16 Fall schedule ranked eighth in the country by Golfstat.
The Bulldogs won the NCAA women’s championship in 2001 and were regular NCAA qualifiers for the remainder of the decade, but the program faltered after misconduct allegations against former coach Todd McCorkle, which precipitated his departure from Athens.
Georgia’s recruiting suffered in the wake of the coaching change, but the Bulldogs ended their recruiting drought last year, signing a trio of standout high school seniors who are all playing major roles as freshmen.
Two of the three are from the Atlanta area, with Bailey Tardy of Peachtree Corners and Rinko Mitsunaga of Roswell both playing well in the Fall season. The third heralded freshman is Jillian Hollis, with all three ranked among the top 75 players among NCAA Division 1 female golfers at the end of the Fall season.
In its first four Fall tournaments, Georgia won twice and had top-three finishes in the other two. The Bulldogs were fifth in their Fall finale at Stanford, with Tardy out of the lineup after suffering a concussion and Hollis missing the final round due to illness.
Tardy ended the Fall ranked seventh in the country, with ties for seventh in her first two college starts and an impressive win in Chicago, where she shot 12-under for 54 holes to win by five, closing with back-to-back scores of 67. Tardy was invited to an early gathering of potential U.S. Curtis Cup players for 2016.
Mitsunaga, who shared a victory in the inaugural USGA Women’s Four-Ball Championship last year, had two top 10s and a top 20 in her first three college starts, and begins the Spring as the No. 72 player in the country. Hollis, ranked 73rd, began her college career with three straight finishes of seventh or better, but her ranking was hurt by her withdrawal at Stanford.
Georgia’s two veteran starters are senior Manuela Carbajo Re and junior Harang Lee. Carbajo Re’s best Fall showing of the Fall came in the Bulldogs’ season opening win at Atlanta Athletic Club, where she tied for fourth. Lee scored three top 10s in five starts and is ranked 22nd in the country. Carbajo Re is 57th.
Isabella Skinner, a sophomore from Cumming, got starts in the team’s last two Fall tournaments and contributed counting rounds in both events.
Georgia will host two Spring events at the UGA course – the Lady Bulldogs Invitational Feb. 6 and the annual Liz Murphey Classic April 1-3. The Bulldogs also play tournaments in Puerto Rico, the Hilton head area and Arizona before competing in the SEC Championship at Greystone in Birmingham April 15-17.
The NCAA Regionals are set for May 5-7 at four sites, with the NCAA Championship scheduled for May 20-25 in Eugene, Ore., just prior to the men’s championship.
Augusta, which ended the Fall ranked 53rd in the country, is the only other state team that appears in contention to get an NCAA bid barring a victory in a conference championship.
The Jaguars played only three times in the Fall, with their best finish a fourth place showing at Kiawah Island. Junior Eunice Yi of Evans was seventh and sixth in the last two tournaments and is the team’s highest ranked player. Fellow junior Jessica Haigwood of Roswell played well as a freshman and junior, but had only one top finish in the Fall, tying for 11th at Kiawah Island.
Juniors Josefine Nyqvist and Teresa Caballer Hernani are the Jaguars’ two other primary players, with Nyqvist posting a pair of top-15 Fall finishes.
After opening their Spring schedule with two February events in Florida, the Jaguars host a tournament at Forest Hills March 11-13 and play in a Kennesaw State event March 28-29 at Pinetree. The team’s final two tournaments are at Clemson and Ohio State.
Unlike the men’s team, the Augusta women do not belong to a conference, but are eligible for an NCAA at-large bid and will receive one if they come close to retaining their ranking.
With a new head coach and a strong freshman class, Mercer appears to be a team on the rise, closing the Fall with a fourth place finish in an event in North Carolina, the team’s best showing.
Freshman Mary Juniga was medalist in that event and placed seventh or better in the team’s three tournaments that were not reduced to 18 holes by inclement weather. Payton Schanen, a freshman from Alpharetta, was 20th or better in all four Fall starts, and Terese Romeo, the third freshman starter, tied for second in the tournament that only went 18 holes.
Marin Hanna, a junior from Moultrie, Taylorsville sophomore Hannah Mae Deems and sophomore Jaelyn Tindal all started in three tournaments, with Madison’s Meredith Owen, the team’s lone senior, making one appearance in the Fall.
Mercer’s Spring schedule includes tournaments in south Florida, north Florida and Kiawah Island, along with three events in Georgia. The Bears play in Augusta March 12-13 and at Pinetree March 27-29 in a tournament hosted by Kennesaw State. The Southern Conference Championship is set for April 10-12 at Savannah Quarters.
Georgia Southern fielded a women’s team for the first time last Fall, and predictably struggled out of the gate. The Eagles’ roster consists of four freshmen and two junior transfers, with Newnan freshman Annie Swords the lone Georgian on the squad. Swords started in the team’s first two tournaments.
The Eagles managed just two individual finishes better than 30th, the best showing a fourth by freshman Ariana Macioce in North Carolina.
The team’s Spring schedule includes three February events in Texas, Florida and South Carolina, and a short trip to Augusta for a tournament March 12-13. The Eagles will play in their first Sun Belt Championship in Destin April 17-19.
Georgia State and Kennesaw State sport rosters that consist entirely of players from outside the U.S. Kennesaw won a Fall tournament at Wofford, but the Owls next best finish was a tie for sixth. Georgia State finished in the bottom half of all five of its Fall events.
Both teams will host tournaments this Spring, with Georgia State playing in the annual John Kirk Intercollegiate at Eagle’s Landing March 27-29. Kennesaw will play a home tournament March 28-29 at Pinetree, with Augusta and Mercer in the field. The Owls also play in the tournament at Forest Hills in Augusta along with Georgia Southern and the host Jaguars.