TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State women’s golf team is ready for a repeat.
Just eight short months after topping Northwestern 3-2 for the 2017 NCAA national championship and recording an NCAA-leading eighth title in the school’s history, ASU’s women’s golf team is poised for another title run – although its team this year is slightly unorthodox.
The 2018 Sun Devils debut without NCAA individual champion Monica Vaughn, who graduated, and junior Linnea Strom, who elected to turn pro before the spring season. Strom, who clinched the title for the Sun Devils with a birdie on the 15th hole, was ranked ninth in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking and announced her decision to turn pro last December.
The reigning champs will also suit up just five women this season, the minimum required to compete, according to head coach Missy Farr-Kaye. However, neither the coach nor the team is concerned about the lack of depth.
In fact, they’re embracing it.
“When you have players of Linnea’s talent, that is certainly going to be part of the process of players turning pro early,” Farr-Kaye said. “It’s taken a little bit of an adjustment, but the silver lining of having five players is that we get to coach them a little differently. There’s no qualifying, they all know they’re playing. For them, they are really secure in what’s going on.”
Arizona State will still be led by sophomore Olivia Mehaffey, who possesses the highest amateur ranking on the team at No. 12, and seniors Roberta Liti and Sophia Zeeb, who both competed at the national championship last season. Junior Madison Kerley, a product of Xavier College Prep in Phoenix, and freshman Raquel Olmos Ros, of Murcia, Spain, will round out ASU’s five.
“We’re all really mentally tough,” Mehaffey said. “We’re a gritty team. I think that having five players with the team we have isn’t a problem. We’re all aware of it, and we know that we all have to step up.”
Stepping up is a concept with which Mehaffey is familiar. After moving to Arizona from Ireland as a freshman, Mehaffey vaulted to the No. 1 playing spot on the team and clinched points for the Sun Devils in both the semifinal and championship round.
It’s a role Mehaffey has welcomed, and in her mind there is no doubt that her team can’t repeat for a second championship this season.
“Our slogan this year is ‘Keep Dreaming.’ There’s no reason why we can’t repeat what happened last year, especially if we get into the top eight at nationals,” Mehaffey said, adding that once match play begins in the quarterfinals, anything can happen.
“There was a lot of hype about our team, and now we don’t have as much pressure. I think people have written us off already, but I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t win a national championship again this year.”
Liti, a Pac-12 All Academic last season, echoed similar statements of her teammate. Although there are holes to fill from Vaughn’s and Strom’s departures, Liti is confident that the team chemistry still remains.
“When it comes to nationals, you just need to make top eight and then it’s match play,” she said. “When it comes to match play, this team has a lot to say.
“I think we have a lot of talent on this team and a lot of potential. The team chemistry is what made us win last year and I think it’s still there.”
The Sun Devils had one first-place finish and three third-place finishes in the fall season, but Strom was still competing for the team at the time. January 28 will mark the debut of the five-woman team as they tee-off in a one-round dual against Denver.
ASU isn’t worried. For Farr-Kaye, there’s no reason why a new team can’t have the same result.
“We’re going to do exactly what we did last year,” she said. “We know where that last day is in the end of the season, but we’re going to do first things first. We’re going to take care of the first tournament, then the next tournament.
“Our goal is to put ourselves in that position where we have a shot of making top eight. I think they’re extremely capable. If we take it one day at a time, and don’t get ahead of ourselves, we’ll be right where we need to be.”
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