Women’s Golf: Wildcats set lofty goals ahead of NCAA Raleigh Regional


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Hannah Kim tees off. The freshman is confident for NCAA play after being named Big Ten Player of the Year.

Kevin Casey, Reporter

Women’s Golf

The standard of golf for Northwestern has risen to unprecedented levels in the last two years, and the Wildcats are hell-bent on pushing the ceiling even higher.

“Our goal is to win NCAA Championships,” senior Hana Lee said. “I know it might sound a bit ambitious because we’re still kind of the underdog with only three nationals appearances in history. But the range in skills on our team boosts our confidence.”

But before they can truly contemplate a national title, the Cats first must make it back to the big stage.

The serious postseason events commence Thursday, when the No. 15 Cats are one of 24 teams set to compete at the NCAA Raleigh Regional on the Lonnie Poole Golf Course. The 54-hole, three-day event is one of four regionals, which will each advance six teams to the NCAA Championships.

NU is seeded fourth in its group, behind No. 4 South Carolina, No. 7 LSU and No. 12 Mississippi State. The team enters in its best position in the group in the past three years — NU was the No. 7 seed in 2014 and No. 10 in 2013.

The favorable spot does not mean the Cats are expecting to cruise past Regionals to the NCAA Championships for the third consecutive year.

NU fell out of position in one of the opening rounds each of the previous two Regionals, an early hole the Cats would rather not have to dig out of. Recently named Big Ten Coach of the Year Emily Fletcher has repeatedly harped on the expanding depth in women’s golf that makes lower-seeded teams less easy to side-step.

Fletcher expects her team’s urgency to be up from the first hole.

“Right from the get-go, every shot matters,” Fletcher said. “It can come down to one single shot. We need to keep that in mind, and the players need to stay fully present.”

It will be instructive for the Cats to follow the example they set at Big Ten Championships, when the team rode a furious final day comeback to take the conference crown for the second time in three years.

In the aftermath, Fletcher hoped her squad could carry the palpable final-day energy she felt had been lacking at times previously.

Her wish appears to have been granted.

“Our team energy has been very good. We’re still feeling it from that come-from-behind at Big Tens,” junior Suchaya Tangkamolprasert said. “We’re pumped up and really excited to start Regionals.”

Some things haven’t changed for the Cats ahead of this week. The Lonnie Poole layout will play long in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Fletcher pointed to the short game as the main determinant to success on the track. The Cats’ frequent and almost-obsessive focus on that area continued with several short game drills in the run up to Regionals.

The team feels ball-striking has progressed well and, as always, the Cats will rely on their depth. The move back to a five-count-four format means that the team will be without junior Kaitlin Park this week, but three first team All-Big Ten selections and a second-teamer remain in the lineup.

The team consists of freshmen Sarah Cho, who comes off her Big Ten title-winning performance, and Hannah Kim, who enters as the conference’s player of the year. Sophomore Kacie Komoto rolls in with three straight top-25s, and Lee has been a steady presence.

Tangkamolprasert may be the name of note, though. The junior seems to thrive in high-level, high-stakes events, evidenced by her scoring the team’s top finish at Regionals and NCAA Championships each of the past two years.

Last year, Tangkamolprasert said she tends to be mentally and physically stronger by this time of year.

For the rest of the team, she sees a bonding that could facilitate the attitude the Cats need.

“As we play together more, we know each other’s games better and we trust each other more,” the junior said. “And when you have that, you play more freely and fearlessly. That’s where you play your best golf.”

As much as there’s a clamoring to keep things the same, Lee’s national title dreams speak to a squad that expects to be a contender more than the previous two iterations.

And the Cats can profit from a bit of entitlement.

“They see it as part of what we do, to advance to NCAA Championships,” Fletcher said. “There’s no extra incentive other than that they’ve worked so hard to build our program to a point of recognition as one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country, and they need to prove that by advancing to NCAA Championships.”

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