WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — A pair of UCLA golfers polished off their practice round on the 18th green Monday when two Arizona State players joined them to putt a few balls.
No intraconference hostility here: The Bruins greeted them with friendly waves.
With so many Pac-10 teams coming together on the opposite coast this week, they might as well all get along.
Six Pac-10 schools are in the 24-team field at the NCAA women’s golf championship, which begins Tuesday. The event usually is dominated either by that conference or by Duke; since 1993, every national title but one has gone to either the Blue Devils or a Pac-10 school.
“I think we’re really committed to excellence,” Sun Devils coach Melissa Luellen said. “They’re really committed to their athletic programs. They’ve got great coaches. The weather’s pretty great on the West Coast. … If I was a kid looking at schools, I’d look at the West Coast, for sure.”
No women’s golf program has won more NCAA team titles than the defending national champion Sun Devils, who have seven. They’re joined here by top-ranked UCLA, Pac-10 champion Arizona, Southern California, Stanford and Oregon – making up one-fourth of the field that will take on the 6,368-yard, par-72 course at the Country Club of Landfall.
“I think our conference, within itself, we’ve really pushed each other as teams to keep getting better and better, because there’s so much competition in the Pac-10,” UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth said. “Week after week, it’s like we play all these same tournaments and we’re competing against each other. The better one team gets, the better you have to get, and you just have to keep going forward.”
Brooks’ Blue Devils rank second with five championships, all since 1999, including three in a row from 2005-07.
“Before we had our little run, it was always out there,” veteran Duke coach Dan Brooks said of the Pac-10. “It was all the Southwest, and the Southwest is strong again.”
The Sun Devils return a strong nucleus from the group that captured the school’s most recent national title. Three players who led Arizona State last year in Owings Mills, Md. – Juliana Murcia, Carlota Ciganda and Jaclyn Sweeney – are in Luellen’s lineup.
“It was such a joy and such an amazing feeling to win the national championship; it’s kind of like the culmination of the whole year and the hard work and everything that everybody does,” Luellen said. “But we’re at a different place, at a different course, different conditions, different players, we have a different team. When you go back to the same course, there’s a lot more expectations because, ‘Oh, you should play that course really well.’ Well, now it’s almost kind of like a new ball game all over again.”
UCLA enters the tournament ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll and by GolfStat and GolfWeek, but Forsyth downplayed that ranking, saying “it means zero, frankly.”
The Bruins are chasing their third NCAA title and first since 2004 after finishing second in both 2008 and ’09.
“You have to come into it feeling good about your game. It is golf, so you might have one player who has an off week. You can’t completely eliminate those things,” Forsyth said. “Hopefully, you come in with all five of your players feeling good, playing well … and really just having a game plan for the golf course, No. 1, but even more importantly, just a game plan mentally for dealing with any pressure or nervousness.”
Eleven of the teams here this week played Landfall a few months ago during the NCAA Fall Preview. Duke finished at 17-over 881 for a one-stroke victory over Auburn and UCLA.
“We’re by no means a front-runner,” Brooks said. “We’re among several good teams, I think, that could win this. The Southwest teams are right in there. … I’d put us in the pack with those teams, but whoever wins is going to have to have a good tournament.”