Women's Golf season preview
Feb. 12, 2009
It took just one season for head coach Martha Richards to make a statement at The University of Texas. For Richards and the women’s golf team, it was go big or go home in the postseason, and the Longhorns converted that motto into a tie for 17th place at the NCAA Championship. It was Texas’ first appearance in the national championship since 2004, but it was familiar territory for Richards, as she has led her teams to five NCAA Championships in the last seven years. Now, for both Richards and the Longhorns, the bar has been raised again for a team that is returning to national prominence.
“Last season, we showed that we had a heartbeat,” Richards said. “We’re not where we want to be, yet, but we are heading in the right direction. We’re trying to get a little bit better every day.”
Richards will count on her skilled upperclassmen, seniors Kristin Walla, Caney Hines and Kelley Louth along with junior Shannon Fish, to lead this year’s run to the postseason. The Longhorn mentor put together another challenging schedule that will put UT up against some of the best teams in the nation.
“I’m excited about our schedule, because I think it’s a nice blend of some of the top fields and some of the top teams in the country,” Richards said. “A lot of the teams we will face are in the same ranked area that we are. So it’s a nice combination of playing some of the nation’s best everywhere we go.”
The Longhorns welcome back Louth who will be able to compete for a fifth season because of a medical hardship waiver. The Victoria, Texas native has battled injuries over the past two seasons and was sidelined a year ago after only two tournaments. The 2004-05 Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Year will look to capitalize on the success she had over the summer after a successful wrist surgery.
“I’m really excited about Kelley and the progress she made this summer after redshirting last year and having her wrist surgery,” Richards added. “Right now, it looks like her wrist is very strong. Her qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and winning the collegiate players tour event was big. She’s worked hard this summer, so I’m really excited for her.”
Walla also recorded a successful summer season back home in Colorado, where she captured the Colorado Match Play Championship. She competed in 10 of UT’s 11 tournaments a year ago and posted two top-25 finishes over the Horns’ final four events. Walla’s top effort last year came at the Indiana Invitational, where she tied for 17th with a nine-over par 225.
Hines will look to continue her strong play during her final season. The San Antonio native carded four top-25 finishes last season, including a 22nd-place effort at the NCAA Central Regional for UT’s top performance. Hines has also recorded a three-stroke improvement on her average over the 2007-08 season.
“Kristin Walla is playing really well and worked hard this summer,” Richards said. “Caney Hines showed last year that she’s capable of a lot of good stuff. So we’re looking for big things from her this year, too.”
Junior Shannon Fish played in 10 tournaments last year and posted UT’s top finish at the Big 12 Championship with a tie for sixth place. Her dramatic putt on the final hole of the NCAA Central Regional enabled the Horns to place seventh as a team at the Regional and advance to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2004. The native Texan saw her average improve by almost two strokes from her sophomore season after carding three top-25 finishes last year.
Looking to make an immediate impact for UT will be Richards’ first recruit, Nicole Vandermade. The Brantford, Ontario product comes to the Forty Acres after completing a highly successful summer campaign. Vandermade claimed two individual titles and one-third place finish on the Canadian Amateur tournament circuit prior to her arrival in Austin. Vandermade was able to spend the spring golf season in Florida to prepare for the climate change from Canada to Austin.
“Nicole Vandermade has had a great summer,” Richards said. “She played really well all summer up in Canada. She’s a super talent, and I think we’re going to see some big things from her this year.
“Nicole spent a lot of last spring taking classes online through her high school so she could practice down in Florida,” Richards added. “So when you live up in the snow, she was able to get a jump start on her summer, which in turn gives us a jump start on her freshman year.”