Losses come in many ways. Sometimes your opponent beats you, sometimes you beat yourself and sometimes you’re just plain outmatched. On Monday and Tuesday at the Windy City Collegiate Classic outside of Chicago, the Michigan women’s golf team managed all three by placing 12th of 14 teams amid fierce competition.
From the beginning, the Wolverines were fighting an uphill battle. Stiff competition filled the field that included four top-ten teams and no team ranked below No. 75.
Going into the meet wary of its chances of walking away with the victory, Michigan wanted to prove it could play with the best of the best and gain some exposure to elite competition ahead of the upcoming high stakes tournaments.
Early into the fledgling 2018-19 season, it appeared the Wolverines were overmatched. But Michigan coach Jan Dowling tells a different story — one of failure to reach potential rather than David v. Goliath.
“I don’t think we were overmatched,” Dowling said. “If anything, we weren’t even close to full cylinders. I hope our team walks away feeling pretty confident about what our program can do and about our potential.
“In order to win the National Championships, you gotta be playing and winning against these teams, so I think by the time we get to the end of the year, we’re not intimidated by seeing these teams, and we know that if we clean things up and get a little bit better, than we can compete with them.”
Despite the elite play of their competition, the Wolverines beat themselves after falling behind in the second round. Shooting a combined 302 strokes on the first round of day one, they subsequently let the course slip away from them with a 307 on their second time around.
Be it due to weather or mental adjustments, though, Michigan found its shot again and finished with a strong 299 total on the third round.
Leading the charge for the Wolverines was junior Hannah Ghelfi. Ghelfi completed a career performance in which she set personal bests in individual finish (24th), single-round total (72, E in first round) and 54-hole total (222).
“I think mostly my mental game (was my biggest strength), just getting comfortable, and this week, I think my putting was definitely a strength,” Ghelfi said. “I was having a lot of putts drop. I think I had five birdies my first round which is cool.”
Ghelfi, while not the most experienced Michigan golfer having to fight for her place in the lineup, has found herself thrust to the top of the pack due to an insatiable work ethic and improved mental toughness. After making her first start in late October of last year, Ghelfi has only trended upward and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
“It’s so cool to see,” Dowling said. “She’s a really hard worker, and has really improved a lot every season, and a lot of that can be accredited to her hard work. To have her come in here, and I think this was her lowest three rounds total of her career, and to do it in this field is pretty impressive, and the whole team is super excited for her.
“She’s a leader on our team, and just from a character perspective, she always works really hard, and to see her make the improvements that she has over the last two and half years is pretty awesome.”
Other Wolverines supplemented Ghelfi’s stellar outing with solid rounds of their own, including sophomore Ashley Kim’s Michigan-low 73 in the third round. After consistently gaining and losing momentum throughout the tournament’s first and second rounds, Kim finally found her groove and sailed to her best round to close out the event.
“She really played well the first two days as well, but she had a couple holes that really killed her momentum,” Dowling said. “Then (Tuesday), same thing, she played well, then she had one double bogey on her 11th hole, so that killed her momentum a little bit. So her scores don’t really reflect how well she played. Golf doesn’t really work that way, but if you can eliminate five holes, then she’s got a lot of really good positives to take away.”
In Kim’s case, she beat herself. In Ghelfi’s case, her opponent beat her. For the team itself, it was simply outmatched. As the Wolverines move on to the rest of their fall season, the goal is to limit mental mistakes and beat all opponents regardless of skill level.