Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Best Kept Secret Around

Scan the top 30 teams in Golfstat's Div. I women's rankings and you're likely to see schools more closely associated with the NCAA Final Four or a BCS bowl game. Alabama. Auburn. USC. North Carolina. Ohio State.

Look a little more closely and you'll see a couple of party crashers; two teams that don't come from the so-called "super conferences" but are still considered among the college golf's elite programs.

Say hello to one of them  No. 26 UC Davis.

Amidst programs with deep pockets and even their own campus golf courses, UC Davis sits among the country's best, every bit a part of the NCAA Championship contender conversation as the rest of them.

And it's not like the Aggies are showing up late for the dance. They're only in their seventh season as a program yet they've made a meteoric rise. Four Div. I seasons and already appearances at three NCAA finals and four regionals. Back-to-back Big West titles in 2010 and 2011. Rankings in and around the top 25 most of the past three seasons.

Under the radar on a local level but already a highly regarded (and feared) program nationally.

It didn't take long for the Aggies to announce their presence, doing so in 2008 - their first at Div. I - when they stunned perennial powers Ohio State and Stanford in a three-team playoff at the NCAA West Regional to earn the final berth to nationals.

UC Who? That was the collective cry that season, especially when the Aggies were reportedly the last team selected to the tournament field yet earned their way to the national finals. Former coach Kathy DeYoung initially built the program before retiring in 2008, giving way to current head coach Anne Walker who's taken the program to even higher achievements.

There was 2009 when UC Davis, ranked 27th, dominated No. 1 UCLA, No. 8 USC and No. 10 Cal to win the Turtle Bay Invitational in Hawaii by nine shots. If the Aggies were only slightly known before then, well, they let the cat out of the bag after that one. More tournament wins followed, keyed by former standouts Alice Kim and Chelsea Stelzmiller who were consistently honored on the All-Big West teams through their four years while also playing in the U.S. Women Open. Yes. THAT U.S. Women's Open.

But the Aggies' profile continues to grow. They checked in at No. 11 during the early parts of this season, winning two tournaments before evening taking fall quarter final exams. This spring has already provided a second, third and a tie for fifth place, the latter coming last weekend at the PING/Arizona State Invitational when they tied (No. 3 USC) or beat (No. 7 Vanderbilt, No. 8 LSU) three top-10 teams.

That was noteworthy enough but Demi Runas added another feather in the cap, tying for the individual title for her second career win.The ASU tournament is one of the oldest of its kind in the country and featured a slew of players more likely suited for an NCAA Championship than a regular-season event. 

PING/ASU Invitational co-medalists Demi Runas and Ani Gulugian (UCLA)

Watching UC Davis climb to the top of "Mt. Div. I Women's Golf" is a story in itself. Knowing that this year's team is doing it without a senior in the bunch might be even bigger. That's right. Five players in the starting lineup and two of them are freshmen (Blair Lewis, Beverly Vatananugulkit), another is a sophomore (Jessica Chulya) and two are juniors (Runas, Amy Simanton).

John Calipari would be proud.

It's a talented quintet. Runas is one of Golf World's top 50 college players to watch this season. A different player led the team at each of the five fall tournaments. Four of them have shot 68 or better in a round. Each of them has at least three top-20 finishes.

With no seniors in the lineup, it'd be easy to say the Aggies' future is bright. Well, the future is now.



Speaking of women's golf, UC Davis hosts its lone "home" event of the year with the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate on Apr. 16-17 at The Ocean Course in Half Moon Bay. Golf is a scenic sport at just about any location, let alone sticking it up against the Pacific Ocean with the Ritz Carlton next door. 

  The Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay and The Ocean Course. (kiwicollection.com)

So what's up with a home event that's not really at home? Welcome to college golf where Wyoming's men's team can hold a tournament in Arizona and Ohio State's women's team can host one in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. Heck, the Aggie men's squad even goes south to co-host The Prestige at PGA WEST in La Quinta which in the past decade has evolved into a premier event on college golf's schedule.

The women will co-host this second annual event with Oregon and bring in a field that was rated by Golf Digest as one of the toughest of the spring. No. 1 UCLA, No.3 USC, No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 14 Cal, No. 19 Arizona and No. 23 Washington are other top 30 teams besides the Aggies and No. 22 Oregon that'll compete.

My job? I'll be there overseeing scoring. No, I'm not playing. You don't want to see that. But if you follow the tournament online, I'll be making sure scores are updated throughout each day so folks can see players' scorecards as they make their way around the course, watch teams rise and fall in the standings, and see which players are in contention for medalist honors.

Yeah, it's cool from that standpoint. As one of the people responsible for making it happen, it can be a pain-in-the-you-know what.

Basically, the tournament stations volunteers near the putting greens of every third hole on the course and when the players come through they give the volunteers their scores from their last three holes. With the help of Mr. Walkie-Talkie, the volunteer then calls in the scores to me and I put them into a scoring system and the tournament's online scoreboard is updated instaneously.

Typical Golfstat leaderboard

That's how it's supposed to happen. But not always.

Golf courses are big places with hills and trees - in other words, obstacles to radio signals. Optimally, I'd be sitting behind my computer in the clubhouse sipping a Diet Coke while I took down scores. Last year, not so much. Turns out the only place we could pick up radio calls from every volunteer location was, and I'm serious, on a bush near the valet stand.

Five feet to the left was a dead spot. Two feet to the right was a no-go. A foot in front of me was a flower bed and I'm not too sure the groundskeepers would take to kindly to that. Six feet behind me was the driveway. 'Nuff said there. But the hedge, it was almost perfect.

Golfers played back-to-back to rounds on the first day so the Oregon SID and myself would take turns standing by the bush writing down scores which we'd then walk down to a portable table and input into the computer.

How'd we find that one "live" spot? Ever see that Verizon commercial? Yeah, well, a lot of "Can you hear me now?" took place between the volunteers and us before the day started.

The scoring software provides each playing group a number, places them at certain hole to start their rounds and then gives me all the necessary paperwork to help the volunteers and I do our job.

Typically, an exchange between the volunteers and us goes like this:

VOLUNTEER: "Hole 15"
ME: "Hole 15, go ahead"
VOLUNTEER: "Hole 15, group 12. Runas 2-2-2. Johnson 2-3-2. Smith 2-2-2."
ME: "OK, Hole 15, group 12. Runas 2-2-2. Johnson 2-3-2. Smith 2-2-2."
VOLUNTEER: "That's correct."
ME: "Thank you!"

That's the way it's supposed to go. Sometimes it's like this.

VOLUNTEER: "Hole.... (static)"
ME: "Go again please?"
VOLUNTEER: "Hole.... (static) teen."
ME: "Hold on, let me move.... OK, go ahead."
VOLUNTEER: "(static)... 15."
ME: "OK Hole 15, go ahead."
VOLUNTEER: "Hole 15, group (static).... Runas 2-2-2... (static) 2-3, Smith 2-2-2.
ME: "OK, can you repeat Johnson's scores?"
VOLUNTEER: "(static) 2-3."
ME: "What her first score?"
ME: ""OK, Hole 15, group 12. Runas 2-2-2. Johnson 2-3-2. Smith 2-2-2."
VOLUNTEER: "That's correct."
ME: "Thank you!"

Luckily, the paperwork tells me who should be at the 15th hole at any given time so if I have the names, I can usually figure out the group.

And that's just one exchange. Over the course of a 36-hole day, we'll have about 300 of those conversations and there are no breaks. At the end of each round, each playing card is checked by an official and we then double-check them against what we inputted because, let's face it, it's easy to see above how mistakes can be made.

The volunteers, usually course members or local residents, are great people and very, very patient with me. Working a golf tournament is different but that's what makes it enjoyable overall. That and having the Pacific Ocean right next door.

Wanna follow live scoring at the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate? Just go here. (the link will be live closer to tournament time).

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director and will be on site at Half Moon Bay for the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate in two weeks. While he's worked many golf tournaments, he has yet to actually see much of any course but knows every clubhouse inside and out. He'll also go to bed for the two weeks after the tournament with the sequence "2-2-2, 2-3-2, 2-2-2" repeating in his head.

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