Gamecocks Set to Tee It Up at NCAA Championship
May 16, 2011
By Wes Todd
As has been the case the last two events, South Carolina will send out a lineup consisting of one junior, one sophomore and three true freshmen, comprising one of the youngest teams in the Southeastern Conference and the nation. Leading the way is junior Katie Burnett (Brunswick, Ga.), who will be competing in her second NCAA Championship. She has never missed a tournament in her three seasons as a Gamecock, and currently ranks second on the all-time career scoring charts behind current LPGA star Kristy McPherson. She was also the medalist at the 2010 NCAA East Regional.
Joining Burnett is sophomore Amanda Strang (Jonstorp, Sweden), who makes her second trip to the NCAA Championship and appears in her 23rd consecutive event.
Three true freshmen will experience their first taste of the NCAA Championship as Samantha Swinehart (Lancaster, Ohio), Suzie Lee (East Northport, N.Y.) and Katie Rose Higgins (Charleston, S.C.) round out the lineup. Swinehart leads the team with four top-20 finishes this year, and Higgins has played in every event this season as well. Lee missed two tournaments in the early spring with a wrist injury, but is back to full strength as she carries the team's second-best scoring average (75.19).
Burnett and Strang will be returning for their second appearances at the NCAA Women's Championship after getting their initial taste of the national spotlight last year at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. Burnett was outstanding, posting rounds of 72-74-69-71=286 (-2) to tie for ninth place, equaling the second-best national finish by a Gamecock and setting the school record for the low 72-hole score. Strang shot 75-73-81-77=306 (+18) and tied for 99th place.
This will be coach Kalen Anderson's third trip to the NCAA Championship in four years as the Gamecocks' head coach. She led the 2008 team to a 23rd-place finish in Albuquerque, N.M., then helped last year's team post a tie for 14th place in Wilmington. Prior to her arrival at South Carolina, she played on one national championship team at Duke in 1999 and helped coach the Blue Devils to two more national titles in 2006 and 2007.
South Carolina is making its 11th overall appearance in an NCAA Women's Golf Championship; its second in a row and third in four seasons. Last year's appearance at Wilmington, N.C., resulted in a tie for 14th place with a team score of 300-297-293-296=1186 (+34), giving the Gamecocks their second-best NCAA Championship finish as a team in school history.
In 10 previous appearances, the best team showing came at the 1995 championship when a pair of top-20 individual performances from Siew-Ai Lim and Clarissa Childs led South Carolina to a tie for ninth place at the site of last year's event, the Dye Course at the Country Club of Landfall. Lim is the most decorated individual in Gamecock NCAA Championship history with a tie for 9th in 1995 and a tie for sixth place the following year. She is also the only Gamecock to have played in an NCAA Championship each of her four seasons.
Southern California enters the championship as the nation's top-ranked team, and the Trojans headline the field with three of the nation's top four players. The Pac-10 and SEC will have seven teams apiece in the NCAA Championship, which comprises nearly two-thirds of the entire field. Joining South Carolina from the Southeastern Conference will be Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
The Gamecocks have faced 22 of the other 23 teams in the field, compiling a winning record against Texas A&M, Washington and Florida. Carolina also has wins over Minnesota, Tennessee and Vanderbilt during the season. The only entrant South Carolina has not faced this year is Arizona State; that, only because the Sun Devils could not field a full team during the fall season and did not participate in the Pac-10/SEC Challenge.
Texas A&M's home course will play to a par of 72 and 6,260 yards for this year's championship. The Jack Nicklaus/Jack Nicklaus II design opened in 2004 and features stately hardwoods, many natural creeks and wetlands, and striking vistas of the Texas A&M campus. The generous fairways offer some relief, but strategically placed bunkers and fast greens will make this week a test for the 126 competitors.
The tournament will consist of 72 holes of stroke play over four days. There will not be a cut; all 24 teams and six individuals will complete all four rounds.
South Carolina will be paired with Ohio State and defending national champion Purdue for the first two rounds. Wednesday's first round gets underway at 9:06 a.m. CT (10:06 a.m. ET) from the No. 1 tee. In a departure from the usual procedure, live scoring will NOT be available through golfstat.com; instead, fans should continue to check NCAA.com for a live scoring link. It will also be posted on GamecocksOnline.com when it becomes available. In addition, fans can keep up with the action via Twitter by following @GamecockWGolf.