Women’s Golf: Northwestern cruises to first victory of spring


Nathan Richards/Daily Senior Staffer

Hannah Kim follows through on a shot off the tee. The freshman has started the spring on fire, posting back-to-back runner-up finishes and is now the No. 20 player in the country.

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Women’s Golf

The Wildcats took care of business in Florida, running away from the field at the Hurricane Invitational early and holding on late to capture their first victory of the spring and second of the season.

A week after No. 7 Northwestern finished fourth at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic — a performance coach Emily Fletcher characterized as “pretty good” and involved losing to two lower-ranked teams — the Cats built a 13-shot lead over the first 36 holes in Coral Gables, Florida, only to see it shrink down near five strokes early in the back nine on Wednesday.

With a treacherous downwind par 5 15th hole and the water-hugging 17th to come, NU’s victory wasn’t secure. The Cats quintet stepped up, though, piecing together all pars on those two holes, and eventually securing a 6-shot victory for a successful title defense at the Hurricane.

Yet the tension-filled scenario produced little anxiety in the end. Joy, rather than relief, permeated the team atmosphere in the aftermath of an event where the team expected to win – the next highest ranked squad was No. 25 – barely held on.

It probably helped that the coach wasn’t at all worried about blowing the 13-stroke cushion.

“At that point (on those two holes) I wasn’t sure that we were going to win, but I was really proud of our girls hitting good tee shots, hitting good iron shots to a back pin,” Fletcher said. “They just fought hard to the end.”

And that’s the key: Although the Cats hold a top-10 ranking, are in contention for a national championship and overflow with blue-chip talent, they still like to scrap.

Fierce competition is apparent throughout and within the squad, and the Cats switched their lineup for this week’s event because they have too many golfers playing well.

Nobody was a greater purveyor of this attitude at the Hurricane Invitational than Kacie Komoto.

Matters started inauspiciously with an opening-round 75, but Komoto posted five birdies in a second-round 68 and closed with a 75 in tougher scoring conditions to place 13th.

Fletcher noted the team’s performance on the last seven holes in particular, especially Komoto’s consecutive birdies and crucial par putt to finish.

Komoto herself was proud of her grit.

“I hit a couple of rough patches out there, but I like the way I responded to them,” Komoto said. “I never gave up, I just stayed patient and waited for the putts to drop.”

But the Cats used more than a fighting dogma to secure victory.

The Cats pieced together a whopping 40 birdies over the first two rounds, 15 more than any other squad, and placed four of its five starters in the top 10 with 18 holes to go.

The leaders of the pack were freshman Hannah Kim, who held first place after 36, and senior Hana Lee, who was right behind her younger cohort in a tie for second.

Kim was the star of the fall, with three top-12 finishes and two top-team finishes. And she’s somehow improved on that in the spring.

The freshman finished second overall in Puerto Rico, and produced another runner-up in Coral Gables following rounds of 69, 70 and 75.

Kim, now ranked 20th in the nation, has now led the team in four consecutive events, and even a player of her talent did not envision this spring start.

“I had no idea that I was going to do this,” Kim said. “It’s my freshman year, and I wanted to take things slow. I’m really surprised that I’ve played this well.”

The Cats will not play again until March 27 at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic, where they performed well last year.

The win is a confidence booster, but could the less than stellar final round linger?

Fletcher isn’t worried.

“We had some unfortunate breaks early on,” Fletcher said. “Hannah Kim hit one bad shot and made double. Kacie’s ball plugged in the face of the bunker and she made triple. A little bit of a shaky start, but the girls played well on that final day.”

NU has been rock solid tee-to-green and a little shaky in the short game area, although all parts were clicking this week, Fletcher said. The Cats have owned the long holes in the spring, leading both tournaments in par-5 scoring average, likely an ode to the team’s robust driving distance.

In every way, the Cats are ready for what the rest of spring entails.

“We’re all really good right now,” Komoto said. “We all feed off each other and have this positive energy that we bring to the course. I’m really excited to see where we go in the spring.”

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