From the outset, it appeared to be a perfect storm for the Wolverines. Over the weekend, the Michigan women’s golf team traveled to North Carolina and battled through unfavorable conditions to place 14th amid a stacked field at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational.
Typically, the practice round before any big invitational is key. During this time the golfers check the speed of the greens, scope out any illusive tricks of the course and get a lay of the land. Exposure to the course is crucial for any golfer. If it can provide even a stroke of an advantage, it’s key for gaining that extra edge.
But over the weekend, the Wolverines were not allowed their practice round due to safety concerns over Hurricane Michael rolling through the region. Instead of playing the full 18, Michigan merely walked the first nine holes and sat indoors meticulously strategizing how it would attack the new course.
To make matters worse for the Wolverines, the UNC Finley Golf Course is made of different grass — Bermuda. Michigan typically practices on Flatgrass and had limited exposure to Bermuda this season. Not an end-all factor, but enough to set a golfer back if they’re not used to playing on the new grass.
But when it came time to play, Michigan left those factors behind and put together one of its more solid outings of the fledgling 2018-19 season. And leading the pack was sophomore Ashley Kim.
Finishing at No. 20, Kim figured out the course early and definitively proved her role as the Wolverines’ most consistent golfer. Kim opened things up on Friday with the best round by a Michigan golfer with a 71, good for one under par and a new season best. Kim used four birdies in the round to set the tone early.
“Ashley Kim, she’s been our best player so far,” said Michigan coach Jan Dowling. “She’s been close to par every round, and she’s on the verge of really breaking through and getting herself in contention to win.
“She’s on the verge of some great golf. She’s already playing some good golf, but she’s right on the verge of being able to win some of these tournaments individually, so that’s pretty huge.”
And right on Kim’s tail is freshman Ashley Lau. Seemingly seeking to rise to the level of her teammate, Lau shot a 72 in her second round and proved she can compete with the best. Then shooting 76s on the bookends of the invitational, Lau demonstrated her potential while also showing room for improvement.
For Lau, there’s no doubt that overcoming the challenges of living in a new country and playing against a different level of competition has been an adjustment for her. The Malaysia native is experiencing a whole new world of firsts and playing some quality golf in the process — two factors not lost on her coach.
“I think she’s coming into her own,” Dowling said. “The kid knows how to play, and I think just moving onto collegiate golf and getting comfortable there, and starting to balance living in a new country and going to school, there’s a lot of elements that go into playing good golf besides the obvious things. And you can tell she’s on the verge of going crazy under par, and she’s starting to find her own.
“Particularly, I hope that second round gave her some confidence. She got under par for quite a while. She’s just gotta clean up some things around her ball striking and her ball management, and she’ll be off to the races. We’re really excited about her potential.”
Dowling believes the team still needs to eliminate the small mistakes — errors that have been dogging her team all season. She thinks Michigan needs to take advantage of wedge shots and avoiding three-putting.
But still, it’s clear that the Wolverines are trending in the right direction.
“We’re not doing some of the simple things as consistently as we need to be, and those include capitalizing on short wedge shots and avoiding free putting,” Dowling said. “So when we’re gonna do that, it’s gonna be awesome. We’re pretty close, but simple isn’t always easy, but simple is still simple.”