BATON ROUGE -- As the sky began to clear Thursday afternoon and the College-Am teams rolled away from the University Club Clubhouse for the final preliminary event prior to Friday's opening round of the LSU/Cleveland Golf Classic, LSU women's golf coach Karen Bahnsen could finally begin to breathe a little easier.
With the biggest field in the 26-year history of the event set to play the 54-hole event, Bahnsen needed the weather to cooperate. It is expected that one of the stronger fields in college golf this year may have some wind and a drying course to deal with, but the conditions should overall be favorable for this event.
With the NCAA East Regional scheduled for the same layout in May, many of the top teams from this part of the country have opted to put the LSU tournament on their schedule. A total of 16 of the 21 teams are ranked in the Golfstat Top 50 teams at present with four in the top 10.
The field is highlighted by No. 2 Duke, the two-time defending national champions and last year's defending LSU/Cleveland Classic champion, No. 5 Auburn. No. 7 Vanderbilt returns individual champion Jacqui Concolino with No. 9 Tennessee usually always a threat.
The rest of the field and their rankings are: No. 17 Virginia, No. 20 Wake Forest, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 27 South Carolina, No. 29 LSU, No. 33 Alabama, No. 35 Louisville, No. 38 North Carolina State, No. 40 Augusta State, No. 41 Birmingham Southern, No. 45 College of Charleston, No. 49 Furman and Kentucky, Memphis, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and North Carolina Wilmington.
Duke is No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance rankings entering the tournament.
"We are very excited about this year's tournament," said Bahnsen, overseeing her eighth LSU/Cleveland Classic at LSU's official home course, the University Club. "There are obvious reasons for that excitement. With the field we have this year, this is really an opportunity to see some of the game's brightest stars compete and it give them an opportunity to see what the venue will look like in some respects in May for the NCAA Regionals."
The Tigers have had good success on the home course, winning the tournament seven times overall and three times at the University Club. Last year, Auburn and the Lady Tigers entered the final round two shots apart and both teams posted rounds of one-under par to let Auburn claim the title. Auburn will be trying to win the event in back-to-back years for the first time since the 2000-01 events at the U-Club when LSU took the title.
LSU's lineup will be pretty much the same as it has been all season and it will be the five players who helped LSU into the national championship tournament last season. Melissa Eaton, one of LSU's two senior twins from South Africa, will lead off for LSU with juniors Kim Meck, Rebecca Kuhn and Alexis Rather and sophomore Caroline Martens. Nicola Eaton and Heather Hoffman will play as individuals for the Lady Tigers.
Melissa Eaton posted a school record and U-Club women's tying record single round of six-under 66 in last year's event. Eaton finished last year's event as the runnerup, shooting a 54-hole total of five-under 211.
"The U-Club has been very good to us in past years and the girls are really looking forward to this tournament," said LSU Coach Karen Bahnsen. "We have been working hard and if we get the chance we need to be able to finish the final round like we know we are capable of. I know this, it will be a great weekend of golf and we expect a number of golf fans to come out and watch the action."
Duke's lineup will feature college's golf No.1 women's golfer (Golfweek/Sagarin) in Amanda Blumenherst who is averaging just under 72 strokes per round with four top 10 finishes.
Admission is free for the event with 18 holes each day through Sunday. Tee times begin Friday morning at 8 a.m. with Duke, LSU and Vanderbilt playing in the final group off the first tee beginning at 10:15 a.m.