Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Arkansas golfers head to desert with title hopes
Arkansas golfer Julia Gregg tees off on the first hole at the Blessings Collegiate Invitational on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Johnson.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas women’s golf team took a blow to their NCAA Championship chances when senior Brooke Matthews of Rogers elected to turn pro in January.
Then sophomore Cory Lopez’s nagging shoulder injury caused her to come out of the lineup after one round at the SEC Championships, as the Razorbacks failed to advance to match play for the first time.
Yet somehow the team’s depth came through and Arkansas earned its ticket to the NCAAs with a third-place tie at the NCAA Ann Arbor (Mich.) Regional two weeks ago.
The 17th-seeded Razorbacks will tee off today at 7:30 a.m. Central in the first round of the NCAAs at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I think for a little while not having Brooke around was a little bit of a shocker,” Arkansas Coach Shauna Taylor told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “Then obviously not having Cory the last few weeks. We’ve been transparent. We’ve talked about it and honed in on the message it’s just about being yourself and being you.
“When each person is taking care of their business and they’re in a really good head space and they’ve put in the prep work, we can win and we can do great things with any lineup. Our team has a lot of depth. This team is very united.
“Getting this group to this point of the season is incredible, and I think it just shows how … we talk a lot about being a race horse, putting on [blinders], and just do what we do.”
Arkansas will send out a lineup of junior Kajal Mistry, junior Julia Gregg, junior Ela Anacona, sophomore Miriam Ayora and freshman Ffion Tynan. Anacona placed fifth at the NCAA regional, while Gregg finished 15th and Ayora 19th. Freshman Giovanna Fernandez traveled to Arizona as the alternate.
The Razorbacks are in the championships for the 12th time, and the ninth time under Taylor, who scheduled the Razorbacks in the Mountain View Collegiate in Tucson, Ariz., in March to get used to a different style of golf. Arkansas came in seventh place out of 16 teams in Tucson.
The Razorbacks did a walk-through of the 6,383-yard Raptor Course in Scottsdale on Wednesday, then got in their practice round on Thursday.
“Today was just kind of making sure we picked good targets,” Taylor said. “We’ve got a good game plan. … We’ve got a good start time, going at 7:30 in the desert heat.”
The Razorbacks played with high-grass roughs almost all season, but at Grayhawk not being in the fairway means being in cactus, scrub, rocks and sand.
“I think tee balls are everything,” Taylor said. “Tee balls out here put you in position to score. That’s a big part of desert golf. It’s not a lot of rough. So if you miss it you’re in the desert.
“That’s one of the reasons we came out here in the spring and played a tournament. It’s a little different. … It’s just going to be premium hitting it in the fairway, because from the fairway I think you can score around this place.”
Stanford is the top seed at the championships, followed by Oregon, South Carolina, Wake Forest and San Jose State in the top 5.
Arkansas will play off the No. 1 tee with a pair of SEC teams in Auburn and Texas A&M.
The Razorbacks, Tigers and Aggies are among the 11 schools whose women’s and men’s teams qualified for the NCAA championships. They are joined by fellow SEC schools Georgia and Vanderbilt, Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Oklahoma State and Texas of the Big 12, and Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford of the Pac-12.
Defending NCAA champion Ole Miss, which took down Oklahoma State 4-1 in the final, is not back to defend its title after finishing sixth at the NCAA Tallahassee (Fla.) Regional on May 11.
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