Vanderbilt Women’s Golf proving doubters wrong with top rankings

Photo+via+Vanderbilt+Athletics

Photo via Vanderbilt Athletics

Riley McCormick

Last Monday, popular magazine Golfweek gave Vanderbilt Women’s Golf the #1 overall Division I collegiate ranking.

This week, despite falling to the second spot in Golfweek’s rankings, the team climbed 22 spots to #3 in the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Poll.

“I’m extremely happy our girls are getting some recognition because we’ve played some solid golf in the first two tournaments,” head coach Greg Allen told VUCommodores.com. Entering his 11th year as Vanderbilt’s HC, Allen added, “our overall team chemistry has been excellent and I think that’s had a very positive impact.”

Just this August, Vanderbilt barely made it into Golfweek’s Top 25 preseason rankings, perhaps due to doubts about the team’s young core of players. Vanderbilt ended last year’s season with a 12th place finish in an NCAA Tournament Regional, which is impressive considering that two-thirds of the squad were underclassmen.

The team raised projections, however, when Vanderbilt placed second to Florida in the Powerade Cougar Classic, a tournament hosted by College of Charleston on the first weekend of September. Freshman Auston Kim, sophomore Louis Yu, junior Abbey Carlson, and senior Courtney Zeng showed what a balanced Vanderbilt second-day foursome could do, leading the Commodores to a score of 27-under par 549 before the tournament was cut short at 36 holes because of weather.

The group set a program single-day scoring record, and Zeng tied for program best individual round with a PR score of 7-under par 65 and a spectacular four birdie streak.

Zeng is an Orlando native who became a top high school product before choosing Vanderbilt over other prominent programs in the southeast, including University of Florida. As an HOD major who has earned SEC Academic Honor Roll two years running, Zeng says her other pursuits help her performance on the course, which has improved by one stroke each year since coming to Nashville.

“My putting has improved a lot since freshman year,” Zeng said. “It’s funny: when practice becomes a ‘grind’ for me, I end up playing worse on the course. So, this Fall especially, I’ve made an effort to step back and keep things positive.”

Graphic via Vanderbilt Athletics

Positivity is a word that shows up frequently in quotations from Zeng’s teammates and Coach Allen. When combined with a rigorous training schedule, a positive mindset is an essential part of Vanderbilt’s success in a sport that demands it. In golf, individual competitors can be teammates, and a technically perfect shot can turn into extra strokes with a “bad lie.”

But sometimes outside events overshadow the game. Two weekends later, the team returned home for its lone fall home tournament at the Legends Course in Franklin, TN, which is about twenty minutes from Vanderbilt’s main campus. The 2018 Mason Rudolph Championship was played in remembrance of Cecilia Barquin, a former Iowa State golfer who was killed September 14th on a golf course.

“The team was really hard hit by the news,” Zeng said. “Abbey [Carlson] played with Cecilia last year, and said she was a bright, cheerful person. At Mason Rudolph, we wore black ribbons on our hats, and we are there for Iowa State. As golfer, you like to view the course as a safe space, and this tragedy really violated that for everyone.”

Vanderbilt would win this rain-shortened installment of the tournament for the third time in history, as a team and an individual thanks to Carlson’s impressive 132-shot performance.

“I’m just so dang proud of what our girls did this weekend,” Allen said afterwards. “It’s not always that easy to win your home tournament and they handled everything exceptionally well.”

UCLA overtook a dormant Vanderbilt this week for the top spot. The Commodores are back in action at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational in Chapel Hill, NC on October 12-14.