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During the college golf season, GolfChannel.com will check in weekly to update what’s happening in the world of college golf.
USC might have been playing its first tournament in nearly a year, but that didn’t keep the Lady Trojans from earning a third straight team title Tuesday in San Diego.
After winning its final two events last spring before the season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, USC picked up where it left off by capturing the Lamkin San Diego Invitational by 24 shots over crosstown rival UCLA and TCU.
“We’ve got a little streak going,” USC head coach Justin Silverstein said.
It was a dominating performance by the Trojans, who finished at 16 over and placed all five players in the top 16. Fifth-year senior Allisen Corpuz shot 2 under to earn her first 54-hole individual title. Her only other college win came at this very event when it included just an 18-hole stroke-play portion in addition to match play.
USC wins its season-opener at the Lamkin San Diego Invitational by 24 strokes and senior Allisen Corpuz goes birdie birdie on 17&18 to clinch her first 54-hole collegiate win!
— USC Women’s Golf (@USCWomensGolf) February 9, 2021
Silverstein calls Corpuz, who is finishing up a graduate degree, one of the smartest and hardest-working players in program history.
“This isn’t surprising at all,” Silverstein said. “She’s as good at home as anyone we’ve ever had. She does a great job managing her game and she’s earned a lot of freedom and been given a little more leash than most with how she works on her game because generally it works. I learn a lot of stuff from her on a daily basis, just how she goes about her business. She’s very organized with her game and her thoughts. It’s really cool to see.”
Added Corpuz: “It was a great way to open up the season.”
USC also got significant contributions from junior Katherine Muzi, who had played just two events in her Trojan career before this week, and freshman Brianna Navarrosa, one of the top recruits in the country. Muzi finished seventh while Navarrosa tied for eighth.
“When we recruit kids, especially at that level, there’s a lot of pressure on them coming in because we expect them to start and compete and help us win right away,” Silverstein said. “We don’t typically specialize in projects here.”
Navarrosa is buying in early while Muzi has certainly been an exception to the rule. After a couple of years mostly on the bench, she’s taken off in recent months, winning a Golfweek amateur event last fall and losing in a playoff in a Cactus Tour event last August. Silverstein said Muzi has gained more than two shots a round on the greens since she arrived in Los Angeles and is now one of the team’s best putters.
Seniors Alyaa Abdulghany and Amelia Garvey, two top-31 amateurs in the world, placed T-10 and 16th, respectively, in the spring opener for USC, which still has some talent back home in junior Malia Nam, a former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Pepperdine transfer Alexa Melton and Christine Wang, another highly regarded recruit.
“In the history of this program, we’ve never been as deep as we are right now,” Silverstein said.
Another name that also didn’t travel with the team to San Diego was 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Gabriela Ruffels, the world’s sixth-ranked amateur, who announced Wednesday that she’s turning pro.
“USC has meant the world to me and has been the best decision I’ve ever made,” Ruffels said in a school release. “The past three years at USC have helped me improve not only as a golfer, but as a person and I am forever grateful to my coaches, teammates, support staff and the whole Trojan family for all their support. As far as my decision to turn professional, it was a super difficult decision to make, but I feel as though I am ready and I’m excited to take my game to the professional level. I have been presented with some opportunities and I’m looking forward to seeing how I far I can go with them.
“I will be rooting on the USC women’s golf team from wherever I am in the world. We have an awesome team filled with great players and I wish them the best of luck to go all the way this year.”
Even without Ruffels, Silverstein is very high on his team’s NCAA Championship chances.
“We know we have a target on our back,” Silverstein said. “But we also have such high expectations of ourselves, no matter what lineup we throw out, no matter what mix of players, we expect to go win tournaments. We work really hard at home, we work really smart at home and we’re seeing a lot of improvement. … We feel like we have a lot of internal momentum with player development and I think it’s showing in our WAGR rankings, so there’s a lot of self-belief within the walls of Heritage Hall. And if we keep working, there’s a lot of special stuff we can do.”
Stark’s stark performance
Maja Stark has barely had time to find her footing in college golf.
The Oklahoma State sophomore first arrived in Stillwater from Sweden last January, but she managed to get in just two events before the season was scrapped. She only played twice last fall, too, because of pandemic-related issues.
Yet, in just six starts now, Stark has had no problems adjusting to the college game. She has two wins and a runner-up, her most recent victory coming Tuesday at the Heroes Ladies Intercollegiate in Sarasota, Florida.
“The way she’s playing right now, she’s on a different level,” Oklahoma State head coach Greg Robertson said. “She looks as good as anybody I’ve seen. She overpowers the golf course and just has complete control of the golf ball right now.”
Stark, arguably one of the longest players in women’s college golf (100 mph swing speed, 270-yard average drive) shot 15 under to win by six shots while helping the Cowgirls to a two-shot team win over talented Ole Miss at The Founders Club. After back-to-back 66s to open her tournament, Stark hit three balls in the water on Tuesday – and she still shot 69 thanks to seven birdies.
“It was not as smooth a round, but I still was able to get it done,” Stark said.
— OSU Cowgirl Golf (@OSUcowgirlgolf) February 9, 2021
Stark, the world’s eighth-ranked amateur, has handled adversity well over the last year. After winning the Hurricane Invitational last spring in just her second college start, she didn’t play again for 20 weeks. Then she rattled off four straight top-10s in pro events back in Sweden.
When it came time to return to school, Stark decided to stay home and compete in the European Ladies Team Championship in September. With the Cowgirls’ fall season up in the air, Robertson fully supported the decision, which paid off for Stark, who helped Sweden to its third straight title in the event.
But when it came time to head back to the U.S., a positive COVID-19 result kept Stark away a little longer. She was able to return in late October for Oklahoma State’s final two events of the fall and then tied for 13th at the U.S. Women’s Open in December. She’s now gone second-win to begin the spring.
“She’s done a great job of overcoming all that,” Robertson said.
The rest of the team has followed suit. Oklahoma State began the fall by finishing ninth at Oklahoma’s event. They then only fielded a roster of three players at Texas’ home tournament before placing third at their own event, eight back of Baylor, which has won four times – each time with Oklahoma State in the field.
Even with All-American Isabella Fierro sitting out both spring events with a wrist injury, the Cowgirls has responded, finishing runner-up at Trinity Forest before their statement win in Florida.
“We’ve been kind of waiting for them to click, and they certainly did this week,” Robertson said. “They didn’t worry about [Isabella being out] and just focused on what they needed to do. That was probably the thing we were most proud of is they didn’t use that as an excuse or let that bother them and just went out and played well.
“There are going to be some road bumps this year and everybody’s going to run into some issues at some point, so whoever handles those things the best are the ones who are going to come out on top.”
Added Stark: “This team can be super good. We didn’t perform as well as we could have for a long time. Obviously, we miss Isabella, but we have so many other amazing players. … This team can absolutely win nationals.”
PGA Tour University update
We have a new member of the top 15 in the latest PGA Tour U rankings: Duke senior Adrien Pendaries.
Coming off a third-place finish last week at the Sea Best Invitational, Pendaries moved up 20 spots, from No. 35 to No. 15. Of course, the top 15 players after the NCAA Championship in May earn status on various PGA Tour tours. Nos. 1-5 get Korn Ferry Tour status this summer while the rest will be able to play this year on the Mackenzie Tour.
The PGA Tour U race really heats up this weekend and next week. Georgia’s Davis Thompson and Auburn’s Jovan Rebula will play this weekend at the Gators Invitational while Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat and Oklahoma teammates Quade Cummins and Garett Reband will tee it up beginning Sunday at the All-American in Houston. Seven top-15 guys, including No. 2 Chun An Yu of Arizona State, will go head to head at The Prestige, which runs Monday-Wednesday in Palm Springs.
Here is a look at the updated ranking:
- 1. John Pak, Florida State
- 2. Chun An Yu, Arizona State
- 3. Austin Eckroat, Oklahoma State
- 4. Davis Thompson, Georgia
- 5. Sandy Scott, Texas Tech
- 6. Quade Cummins, Oklahoma
- 7. Garett Reband, Oklahoma
- 8. McClure Meissner, SMU
- 9. Trevor Werbylo, Arizona
- 10. Jovan Rebula, Auburn
- 11. Hunter Eichhorn, Marquette
- 12. Kyle Hogan, Texas Tech
- 13. Tim Widing, San Francisco
- 14. Devon Bling, UCLA
- 15. Adrien Pendaries, Duke
- 16. Cooper Dossey, Baylor
- 17. Michael Feagles, Illinois
- 18. Christopher Gotterup, Rutgers
- 19. Spencer Ralston, Georgia
- 20. Matthias Schmid, Louisville
- 21. Jack Trent, UNLV
- 22. Graysen Huff, Auburn
- 23. Hunter Wolcott, Tennessee
- 24. Joshua McCarthy, Pepperdine
- 25. Mason Andersen, Arizona State
For full ranking, click here.