BATON ROUGE -- The one college golf tournament where finishing eighth is almost as good as a win begins its 54-hole test of some of the nation’s top women’s golf teams as the University Club and LSU hosts the 2007 NCAA East Women’s Regional beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday morning.
The 54-hole event runs through Saturday at the LSU home course and admission to the public is free.
The Lady Tigers, ranked 27th in the Golfstat rankings and 28th on the Golfweek/Sagarin performance chart, will be one of 21 teams in this regional looking to finish in the top eighth to advance on to the NCAA Division I Women’s National Championship tournament set for LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., May 22-25.
In the field are 17 teams ranked in the 45 of either poll, headlined by two-time defending national champion, Duke, which is No. 1 in the Golfstat rankings and No. 2 in the Sagarin rankings. The Blue Devils are the No.1 seed in the tournament, followed in seed order by UCLA (12 Golfweek), Auburn (5), Purdue (7), Texas A&M (14), North Carolina (17), Alabama (26), Wake Forest (18), South Carolina (25) and Virginia (21) rounding out the top 10 seeds.
Florida State (23) is seeded 11th ahead of LSU in 12th with the remainder of the field being Louisville, South Florida, North Carolina State, Birmingham Southern (possibly making its final Division I post-season NCAA appearance before dropping its athletic program to Division III), Furman, College of Charleston, Western Carolina, Jacksonville State and Jackson State.
The two feature waves of the opening day of play will take place in the morning session of the event as the 10th, 11th and 12th seeds – Virginia, Florida State and LSU – will play together beginning at 8:10 a.m. It is expected that all three of those teams, although seeded outside the top eight, could be in contention on Saturday morning for one of the precious qualifying spots. Nationally some golf writers have suggested that as many as eight teams could be competing for the final four team qualifying spots come the final round.
The other feature wave is in the 9 a.m. pairing that sends the top three seeds off in Duke, UCLA and Auburn. All three are teams expected to easily make the top eight, just looking to get off to a good start and find a qualifying position.
LSU will play with the same five that one year ago at the East Regional in Browns Summitt, N.C., played some of the best golf in the almost 30-year history of the program shooting even par in the first two rounds to eventually finish second at six-over par and advance back to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2001.
Coach Karen Bahnsen, taking her Lady Tigers to the regionals for the 13th time in the 15 years since the first regional in 1993, feels after the practice round her team is ready.
“They’re ready,” said Bahnsen, completing her 23rd year as the head coach. “They are excited about playing on their home course. It’s a very tough field, but the girls are set and now it’s a case of just going out and playing. I think it’s going to be a very good weekend. We are happy to have all these teams here and hope our local fans will come out the next three days and watch some very good college golf.”
Senior Melissa Eaton, with the team’s best stroke average of 75.6 will lead the Lady Tigers, followed by the junior trio of Rebecca Kuhn, Kim Meck and Alexis Rather. Sophomore Caroline Martens, still looking for a return to form from her freshman season, will be the fifth player in the five play, four-scores count system.
This will mark the third time LSU has hosted a regional, having hosted East events in the first year of regional play at 1993 at Santa Maria in Baton Rouge and in 2002 at the University Club. Duke was a runaway victor that year with what is still the 54-hole team score for women’s collegiate play, 859, five-under par. LSU did not qualify in either year so far it has been a host.
Several of the teams took part in a type of dress rehearsal here in March in the LSU/Cleveland Golf Classic. Duke again was a winner at eight-over par 872, while Auburn was third and Alabama was fifth. LSU finished eighth in that event at 42-over par 906. The nation’s number one player, Amanda Blumenhurst of Duke, set the women’s collegiate record for 54 holes at the University Club in winning the Classic. She became the first golfer to get into double figures at 10 under par before bogeying the 18th to finish at nine-under 207 (68-69-70).
There are two other regionals at Ann Arbor, Mich., and St. George, Utah that will also qualify eight teams each for the women’s national golf championship.
Live scoring for the East regional is available at www.golfstat.com