Fierce competition is always expected between top-ranked teams. In the world of competitive sports, co-operation among these teams is a rarity. But the Florida State Match Up Invitational in Tallahassee, Fla., provided some of the nation’s top women’s golf programs the opportunity to do just that.
The invitational’s unique setup paired two of the 12 competing teams together on the first two days of the three-day competition. Each pair received a 36-hole total, calculated as an aggregate of the pair’s top-four scores, plus the bottom-two scores from each team.
For the Michigan women’s golf team, this meant a chance to play with one of the best teams in the country, No. 15 Notre Dame. Such an experience is beneficial to any team, but is invaluable for a team as young as the Wolverines.
The Michigan roster has one distinctive feature — there are no seniors on the squad. Out of the nine-member team, five golfers competed in the invitational — juniors Alyssa Shimel and Alicia Weber, sophomores Lauren Grogan and Linda Luo and freshman Catherine Peters.
Playing alongside the Fighting Irish gave the Wolverines a chance not only to face top competition, but to recognize their own potential early into the spring season.
“It was a great experience playing and being paired with Notre Dame,” said Michigan coach Cheryl Stacy. “They got to see where they are compared to them. After the first 10 holes of the first round, they were playing a lot better than Notre Dame.”
Building confidence was essential in an invitational ripe with competition. Of the 12 teams invited to compete, four hold Top-25 rankings.
The Wolverines came in ninth place over the weekend with a score of 918, edging out Kansas on the last day of competition by three strokes.
Pacing the Wolverines was Luo, whose combined score of 225 (76-77-72) tied her for 18th place individually.
Although scoring steadily on Friday and Saturday, Luo’s even-par score of 72 on the final day of competition allowed her to place in the top 20. She began the round with a birdie on hole 13, before leveling off and recording two bogeys and one double-bogey. Luo’s defining effort came late, as she birdied three of her last four holes to record the Wolverines’ best single-day score of the tournament.
Peters began the tournament strong, tying Luo on the second day of competition in 32nd place, with a two-day score of 153. But Sunday’s round proved challenging for Peters, who finished with a final three-day score of 238 (75-78-85).
Grogan, Shimel and Weber contributed scores of 233 (76-80-77), 234 (77-84-73) and 235 (78-77-80), respectively.
Michigan’s combined three-day score of 918 was higher than that of all of their ranked counterparts.
No. 16 Georgia captured the tournament title with a score of 877, led by top individual scorer, Rocio Sanchez Lobato (214, 66-74-74).
Yet the Wolverines proved they could keep pace with their competitors. Michigan’s score was only 12 strokes shy of Notre Dame’s 906.
“We’re trying to set (the team’s) expectations high, but you have to take small steps,” Stacy said. “You have to look at the positives along the way.”
Stacy’s message to the team was simple. She wanted the Wolverines to be encouraged by their ability to compete at the top level.
“Take that and gain confidence from it — that you can play as well as a team like that,” Stacy said.