By Jeffrey Swindoll
In a big weekend for Baylor athletics, Baylor women’s golf brought home some hardware of its own. The Lady Bears won their first-ever Big 12 conference title in the Big 12 Conference Championship at The Dominion Country Club in San Antonio on Sunday. Baylor finished the championship with 12-stroke lead.
“It means a lot to our team and our program,” head coach Jay Goble said. “It shows Baylor is well rounded and great at all sports. We’ve been so close the last couple of years, just knocking on the door. The first championship is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into the first one.”
The Lady Bears earned an automatic bid to the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship thanks to the Big 12 title, marking their fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Baylor was then announced as the six-seed in the San Antonio Regional on Monday.
Baylor’s final score (867) was the program’s best at a Big 12 Championship and second in conference championship history. Furthermore, the Lady Bears’ first round score (282) was the lowest first round score in Big 12 championship history.
“More than anything. I’m just really proud of [the team] and the way they fought all week and they were in complete control of their games,” Goble said. “I didn’t look at leaderboards all week, the team didn’t look at them either, but I could tell that they were in complete control. Watching them play and seeing the shots that they were hitting, I knew we stood in a place all week.”
In addition to the Big 12 crown, junior Laura Lonardi finished second in the individual championship. Lonardi shot 2-under 70 in the third round for an overall score of 4-under 212. Her final score tied Oklahoma State’s Kenzie Niesen after regulation, forcing the two into a sudden death, winner-take-all playoff for the individual title.
Lonardi also tied a program record with her score in the individual championship (70) that is now co-held by her and senior Hayley Davis. Adding more to her fantastic showing at the championship, Lonardi broke Baylor’s 54-hole total at the Big 12 Championship record with a 213.
“Laura stepped it up big time this week,” Goble said. “She’s definitely a vocal leader with our team. I know that in the past she wasn’t completing some of the rounds the way she wanted to, but she looked like a superstar the whole week. All the way through the 54 holes and in the playoffs she hit the ball great.”
In the five-player lineup for Baylor’s championship-winning team, three of them were freshmen – Dylan Kim, Giovana Maymon and Lauren Whyte. Goble said their poise on the way to the program’s first-ever conference championship in their first time competing for one was admirable.
“They didn’t crack,” Goble said about the three freshman. “That means our future’s bright and things are looking good.”
Though it was the first time competing in the Big 12 Championship for most players, Goble said his team tried to keep the formula the same way it has been all year. The team went as far as keeping the pre-game eating menu the same as it has been this season. This helped the team stay calm and loose in a rather tight situation, Goble said.
“Something that we really tried worked hard on all week was keeping it normal, the same as usual as far as, ‘We’re going to bed at this time, eat here, start warming up starting at this time,’” Goble said. “They felt really comfortable all week and they looked like they were ready to win.”
Three Baylor players (Lonardi, Davis and Kim) were named to the All-Tournament team, tying the program’s record previously set in 2005 by Josefin Svenningsson, Anna Rehnholm and Sian Reddick.
“We didn’t talk about the lead, the scoreboard. We were talking about finishing the race, going out there, hitting every shot with conviction all the way through the round and leaving it all out on the golf course. We weren’t trying to play perfect golf. We were trying to play our game.”
The Lady Bears players have a lot going on right now off the course, Goble said, noting exams and final projects due in the final week of classes at Baylor. He said he trusts his team to still do the right things, like practicing and staying focused on what’s expected of them.
Overall, the team’s motivation ahead of the national championships this week could not have been better, Goble said.
“Our last two events we ended up in second and first place,” Goble said. “It’s big-time confidence, especially when we move into regionals so quickly. Going into regional, the girls will have good memories of our last two tournaments. I believe the momentum is going to help a lot.
“If we’re sticking to basics and we’re playing one shot at a time and we’re controlling what we can control, I think the possibilities are pretty much endless with this team.”