May 19, 2010
For Texas’ longest hitter Nicole Vandermade, her opening-round success in the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships on Tuesday came as no surprise. After playing practice rounds on Sunday and Monday, the sophomore was already in love with the par-72, 6,368-yard Country Club of Landfall Pete Dye Course in Wilmington, N.C.
“This course really suits my game because of the length and wide fairways,” Vandermade said. “It’s an absolutely beautiful course, a very traditional Northeastern course with tree-lined fairways that are still wide and generous. It’s set up to play about 6,300 yards, but there are several holes that play directly into the wind and make it feel like it’s playing more like 6,500 yards.”
Vandermade’s affinity for the national championship course was obvious on Tuesday afternoon, as she opened the tournament with an even-par 72. She was one of just 29 competitors in the 126-player field to play at par or better, and she finished the day tied for 20th place, with an eagle, three birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey on her card.
With an average length of 270-280 yards off the tee, Vandermade quickly found her stride on her second hole - the par-4, 387-yard 11th hole – where she made her first birdie of the round.
“Some of these par-4s are really long and shorter hitters are struggling a bit. For me, I’m using a pitching wedge or 9-iron on my approach shots because of my length off of the tee. It definitely makes it a lot easier for me to use those clubs instead of having to grind it out with a lower iron or hybrid. That’s a huge advantage on this course to not have to play with my lower irons and to be on many of the greens in just two shots,” Vandermade added.
Vandermade’s biggest confidence booster of the day came on the par-5, 445-yard 18th hole, when she carded her team-leading fourth eagle of the season to turn at 3-under.
“I absolutely bombed my drive down the fairway on 18,” Vandermade recalled.
From the fairway, she had 162 yards downwind to a pin that was tucked on the lower right-hand side of the green and protected by a bunker. Her grip 7-iron approach shot landed eight feet to the left of the pin placement, and Vandermade sunk her downhill, left-to-right eagle putt.
Vandermade confessed that three more rounds of golf in the same fashion as Tuesday’s would cap off a season that she termed ‘frustrating.’ She led UT at the Peg Barnard Invitational (Feb. 13-14) with a tie for 17th place for her best performance of her sophomore season. As a freshman, she recorded four top-individual finishes for UT, including four top-10 and seven top-25 finishes.
“I haven’t played as well as I know that I can (this season),” Vandermade said. “I came into this championship with a clean slate. On Monday night, Tracy (assistant coach) and I talked about just focusing on playing my game, and not dwelling on my performance in the West Regional and the rest of the year. I wanted this tournament to be fun, so I had to let go of all of the outside factors that were stressing me out earlier in the season. My primary focus was just on having a good time on the course, and letting my game take care of everything else.”