The NCAA championship is hard enough. Add in terrible weather and a very difficult course and you have a first round where the best college players in the country averaged 80.6.
“I would say this is one of the top three most challenging conditions I have seen,” said Clemson Head Coach Kelley Hester, who has coached four different teams and played for Georgia in the championship.
“It was raining by the time we were on the second hole and the winds were gusting to 20-25 miles per hour,” she added.
The players were bundled up and covered up. The temperature for the early starters was in the low 40s and the wind chill made it feel 10 degrees colder and it didn’t get much better later in the day.
Given the conditions at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago it isn’t much of a surprise that three teams from the Upper Midwest hold the top spots after the first round.
Northwestern, Kent State and Ohio State lead the tournament. The top individual is August Kim from Purdue and the other top four players are from north of the Mason-Dixon line.
“On top of that, this is the most difficult course I have seen for an NCAA Championship. It is like playing in the US Open or the British Open,” Hester offered.
While the Clemson coach is an NCAA veteran her team was making their first appearance in the championship. Clemson started in the early morning and finished 17th at 33-over par. Clemson’s five players managed only one birdie in the round.
“I was very proud of our ladies today because they had a great attitude all day. I told them before we started to just commit to your shots and do your best. That is all you could do. I told them to keep their head up,” said Hester.
The Tigers best score was turned in by Ana Paula Valdes. The freshman shot a 5-over par round of 77 to be in a tie for 19th place.
She was the only Clemson player who avoided a double-bogey in the first round. The rest of the Tigers posted scores above 80.
The Furman Lady Paladins entered the tournament ranked 9th in the country, but like 2nd ranked Alabama, 5th ranked FSU and 8th ranked Duke, Furman finished the first day well off the lead.
Furman is 18th and ahead of Duke, FSU and Alabama.
The best performance for the Lady Paladins was turned in by Haylee Harford. The fact that the Furman sophomore is from Ohio could have helped her shoot a 4-over par round of 76 to finish day one in a tie for 13th.
Two of the five Furman golfers have had experience in the championship, but freshmen Natalie Srinivasan and Carly Burkhardt were playing in their first NCAA final. Srinivasan was 15-over par while Burkhardt finished at 17 over.
By comparison Lauren Stephenson, who dominated girl’s junior golf in South Carolina and now plays for second ranked Alabama, finished at 13-over par.
South Carolina did the best job of managing the difficult conditions among the three Palmetto State teams in the finals.
The Gamecocks finished in 7th place with a 313 total. USC has two players, Ana Pelaez and Ainhoa Olarra in the top 13. Pelaez shot a 3-over par 75 and is tied for ninth.
Gamecock coach Kalen Anderson had high praise for her players after they survived the difficult first round.
“They were so tough today. They persevered, and they were really determined,” she said. ” They just hung in there. It’s a marathon this week, and they did a great job to come back on the back nine.,” said the USC coach.
The South Carolina golfers played the back nine at 4-over par as Palaez birdied two of her final three holes.
The temperature in Northern Illinois is forecast to get up to 70 on Saturday, but there is nearly a 100% chance of thunderstorms.