Dudley E. Dawson is a reporter for Hawgs Illustrated. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Steady Fassi in good spot
Arkansas senior Maria Fassi prepares to tee off during the NCAA Golf Championships on Friday, May 17, 2019, at Blessings Golf Club in Johnson.
FAYETTEVILLE The University of Arkansas fell out of the team lead Saturday at the Blessings Golf Course in what turned into a weather stoppage, but senior Maria Fassi has herself in contention for medalist honors at the NCAA women's golf championships.
Fassi was 2 under through 11 holes on Saturday and 3 under overall, which was one stroke back of Arizona's Bianca Pagdanganan, who was through 16 holes before a weather delay came at 12:15 p.m and wiped out the rest of the day.
Fassi came back on Sunday morning and finished her round with a 71, which puts her at 3 under and tied with Pagdangaanan a stroke back of Florida's Sierra Brooks.
"She's solid. I mean, she thrives in these environments," Arkansas Coach Shauna Taylor said of Fassi. "Obviously we will go get everybody some rest, and I am sure she'll come back and finish strong, just like the other four."
Arkansas' Kaylee Benton, 2 under through 12 holes on Saturday and 1 under after the completion of the round on Sunday, is in a seven-way tie for fifth.
"[Fassi and Benton] are just such great leaders and do a fantastic job on the golf course," Taylor said. "They are very consistent. They accept mistakes very well, and I think that shows with where they are on the leaderboard."
USC sophomore Amelia Garvey birdied six of her first seven holes Saturday and finished her round Sunday at 1 over.
"I was actually with her for all of them," USC Coach Justin Silverstein said. "That was about as good a stretch of golf that I have ever seen. Super clean, she was hitting her numbers perfectly. Like on four, she hit a great gap wedge, went past the hole and spun it back to about a foot.
"She took advantage of the reachable holes. She is the longest player in the field and just took advantage of that. Super clean. She gave a few back coming in, but she would have taken 2 under through 16 for sure."
Arkansas senior Maria Fassi, who will turn pro after the NCAA championships, already has an exemption for the LPGA's Evian Championship, which will be held July 25-28 at Évian-les-Bains, Haute-Savoie, France.
She earned an exemption to the same tournament in 2018 after being named the ANNIKA Award winner as the nation's best collegiate golfer, but she was unable to play because it was held in September.
Former LPGA star Annika Sorenstam called Fassi personally with the news that she would be granted the exemption this year. The call came 15 minutes before Fassi was going to take a final exam a couple of weeks ago.
"Of course I wasn't expecting this call, but I was just joking with her, 'I don't care if I fail this final if I do something like that,' " Fassi said. "You've made my day already. It was just some great news, especially as a rookie on the LPGA. It's going to be great and crucial for me to be able to earn money and keep my card."
Duke's Ana Belac and Texas' Hailee Cooper had the day's best completed rounds at 4-under 69 at the time play was stopped.
"My irons were really solid, especially on the back nine where I got really close and had the chance for birdies, which made the job a lot easier," said Belac, a junior from Slovenia.
Duke's Gina Kim, whose 3-under 70 moved her to 2 over through two rounds, thought playing in the morning was beneficial.
"The windy conditions were still there," Kim said. "In my opinion, I think the morning dew definitely helped the golf ball set a little better on the green, and there was like a small shower in the morning that softened the greens up a little bit.
"I was able to be a little more aggressive, and I was able to land it in the spots that I really wanted to. I think that really helped push me."
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek was not at Arkansas when work began on landing the NCAA golf championships.
But he is getting to enjoy the pleasure of seeing it happen during his tenure with the men's and women's tournaments being played over two weeks at Blessings Golf Club.
"It's been a tremendous amount of work by a number of people over the last couple of years," Yurachek said. "It's all kind of come to fruition now. You see the flags of the 24 schools that are represented here and you see the galleries following the girls, the eyes of the collegiate golf world are on Fayetteville and the Blessings and Northwest Arkansas now."
Duke leads the women's field after completing its second round Sunday. The Blue Devils are 2 over.
Arkansas, which made its way through the Washington Regional for the right to play on its home course, and Texas were tied for the lead after Day One.
"It was pretty exciting," Yurachek said. "Obviously there is a lot of pressure on you when you are playing at home. There was pressure on them to get here when they were in the Washington Regional. There is pressure on them to play at home because the gallery is following them around and cheering for them and want them to advance as far as they can.
"They want an opportunity to compete for a national championship once we get to match play."
Duke was 11 under and USC was 5 under on Saturday, a day after the course was the winner with no team better than the 10 over carded by Arkansas and Texas.
"You have a couple of teams today like Southern Cal and Duke who looked like they have figured it out and played really, really well," Yurachek. "You can score on this course once you learn how to play it and learn the greens and speed and things of that nature."
Yurachek's message to the team was to enjoy the event.
"I didn't have a message other than saying good luck and how proud I was of them," Yurachek said. "I knew there was a lot of pressure they are carrying on their shoulders to go out to Washington and get back here and now that you have made it, just relax and play and just enjoy the experience of competing for a national championship on your home course."
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