Women's Golf preparing for title run at NAIA Nat'l Championships
By Jim O'Hara
2012 NAIA Women's Golf National Championships
May 15-18 • Link Hills Country Club • Greeneville, Tenn.
GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – They may be young, but one can be sure that when the 2012 NAIA Women's Golf National Championship begins, the Shorter University Lady Hawks will certainly be one of the contenders for a title.
Thanks to a combination of three sophomores – all of them helped Shorter post a third-place finish last year – and two freshmen who have proven their worth, the No. 7-ranked Lady Hawks have the appearance of a well-seasoned and skilled team as they prepare to tee off Tuesday morning to start the four-day tourney being held at Link Hills Country Club in Greeneville, Tenn.
"We've got enough talent to make another run at a national championship," Shorter head coach Greg Owens said as Shorter has the honor of being one of the first three teams, along with top-ranked Oklahoma City and the College of Idaho, to tee off in the opening round.
A year ago, the Lady Hawks fell short of finishing the season as the top team – Shorter gained its first-ever No. 1 ranking in 2011 – as California Baptist and Embry-Riddle turned in strong outings with California Baptist winning the title in a playoff.
Yet Shorter may be even more balanced this time around, having opened the new season winning the Coastal Georgia Invitational and finishing second at the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament behind No. 2-ranked Lee, which joins the Lady Hawks as pre-national tourney favorites.
Returning to head up Shorter's charge on the course is sophomore Lisa Persson of Sweden, who was the 2011 SSAC Freshman of the Year after winning the conference tourney, and earned NAIA All-American honors after finishing in a tie for 12th place at last year's nationals.
"She has a professional mentality," Owens said of Persson, who is currently rated as the No. 7 golfer in the NAIA with a 76.79 round average. "She stays focused and keeps moving forward, not worrying about the recent past."
Shorter's other two sophomores also know what it will take to keep the Lady Hawks in the national spotlight in the Volunteer State.
Sophomore Maria Bengtsson of Sweden finished 20th last year and according to Owens has the right tools to handle the layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., which demands a high level of strategy.
"Maria's got the ability to play well and this course suits her game well," the coach said, noting Bengtsson's strong short game.
Accuracy around and on the greens is what sophomore Gabriela Murcia of Colombia gives the Lady Hawks as well, as the third SU sophomore who is familiar with Link Hills.
Freshmen Pauline Schopp of Germany and Isabella Baldacci of Norfolk, Neb., round out Shorter's quintet as both have made immediate impacts in their first season with the Lady Hawks. Schoop overcame an early-season injury to close out the regular season with impressive performances and Baldacci has put up low numbers over the past month.
"Pauline has been shooting par or better in our practice rounds," said Owens, "and Isabella's got her game moving in the right direction."
Owens knows that the quest for a national title will demand patience and focus.
"I try to keep them on an even keel out there," said Owens, who will be joined in Tennessee by assistant coach Franziska Blum, a former All-America at Newberry. "This is a long tournament and you've got to stay within the moment, staying focused on what's in front of you and not behind you and they've been able to do that. A bad start doesn't mean a bad round.
"If they keep doing those things well, we'll be in the hunt at the end of it."