Sunday January 27, 2013Spring Season Kicks Off at Florida Challenge for Third-Ranked Gator Women
The No. 3 University of Florida women’s golf team will finally be back on the course in competition form Monday as the Florida Challenge marks the team’s first tournament of the 2013 spring season.
Hosted by the University of South Florida, the Florida Challenge will only feature five teams, including the Gators, all from Florida schools and will be played on the tough Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch (Par 72, 6,050 yards) in nearby Lecanto, Fla., and will consist of just two rounds over one day of play.
UF enters the spring riding high after winning two team titles out of four possible tournaments back in the fall season. However, even with the early season success, Florida head coach Emily Bastel knows the spring season is where everything starts to count just a little more.
“Black Diamond is going to be a great venue for this tournament,” Bastel said. “It’s challenging, the greens are going to be fast, but it’s going to be fun for us to play. It’s a great way to start our season before the real meat of the season begins. It’s a great way to get some competition under our belt before we head to Los Angeles for our next tournament.”
The Cougar Classic back in September marked not only the first tournament title of the year for the Gators, but it was also the first collegiate individual title for sophomore Camilla Hedberg (Sitges, Spain). The Spaniard fended off a tough Lindy Duncan from Duke to win by four shots and set the tone for the Gators for the remaining fall season.
For the next two tournaments, the Dale McNamara Invitational and the Tar Heel Invite, it was senior Isabelle Lendl’s (Goshen, Conn.) turn to leave her mark on the fall as she rolled off two straight victories. The McNamara Invite was also a first for Lendl as it was her first outright title of her Gator career.
Hedberg finished off the fall in dramatic fashion as she claimed the prestigious Betsy Rawls Invitational in a playoff. It was her second title of the season and was a performance that helped the Orange and Blue to its second team title of the season.
Florida hasn’t won at least two tournament titles in a full year since the 2007-08 season, which was also the last time the Gators won the SEC Championship. This previous fall season was also the first time the Gators won multiple fall tournaments in over four years.
The performances by Hedberg and Lendl were nothing short of unforgettable as they will enter the spring as the top-ranked players in the country, according to GolfStat.com. Lendl is holding down the top spot with a 70.67 average, while Hedberg is right behind her at No. 2 with a 70.75 average score over 12 rounds. In just four tournaments, both players combined to shoot five of the lowest seven rounds ever recorded at UF.
Hedberg and Lendl will lead the rotation this week in Lecanto, followed by junior transfer Elcin Ulu (Istanbul, Turkey), freshman Ursa Orehek (Domzale, Slovenia) and senior Mia Piccio (Bacolod City, Philippines). Ulu had a strong showing at the Betsy Rawls Invite back in October finishing tied for 37th after rounds of 76-71-78. It was her final round of 78 that gave the team the overall title over Alabama, shooting one better than Alabama’s fifth player in its rotation.
“We’re taking the same lineup we had at our last tournament, but we’re also going to be taking three players who will compete as individuals,” Bastel said. “Something like this is good to have our whole team get some competition and see what we’ve got and check our depth. What we did in the fall worked so well, so we want to stick with that model. We just want to go and stick with one shot at a time and go with the things that worked well for us in the fall and hopefully, those will continue for us in the spring.”
Orehek is the one of the newest Gators on the team, but has been getting plenty of play since the fall season began. After playing in each of the first four tournaments, the Slovenia native averaged a 76.9 score over 12 rounds and is averaging just under five shots over par per round. Her lowest round came at the Cougar Classic with a 73, but her best tournament outing came in her most recent appearance, the Betsy Rawls, where she finished tied for 37th with a 225 tournament score.
Finally, Piccio will round out the lineup, but still brings plenty of firepower after appearing in three tournaments in the fall. Averaging a score of 72.1 this year, Piccio is just behind Hedberg and Lendl in terms of national ranking. Currently, Piccio is No. 21 in the nation according to GolfStat.com, while GolfWeek has her at No. 40.
Her best fall tournament in 2012 came back at the Cougar Classic, where she nearly cracked the top five with a 213 (-3) score. The senior tallied five even or under par scores in just three tournaments and will look to continue to be a solid No. 3 for the Gators as they begin the spring.
Play will begin tomorrow with the first groups teeing off at 8 a.m. Live scoring will be available on GolfStat.com and a complete recap with results will be posted on GatorZone.com following the day’s play.
To view Florida’s pre-tournament notes for the Florida Challenge, CLICK HERE.