Gamecocks show 2021’s promise and depth in home golf tournament

Bob Spear
·3 min read

Kalen Anderson pulls no punches in setting the standard for her USC women’s golf team. “Our expectations are very high,” the veteran coach says.

“Very high” translates into a lofty finish in the NCAA Championship, and the Gamecocks took steps over the past few days that suggests the goal is not wishful thinking this spring.

The Carolina squad joined 17 other teams Monday through Wednesday at Columbia Country Club for the Gamecock Intercollegiate and the field had credentials worthy an NCAA regional — 11 ranked teams, including five of the top seven in the Golfstat survey.

USC did not win; Duke did. The Gamecocks finished third, six strokes off the pace, and remained within striking distance until the end.

“I was pleased to see how they came back with toughness and resilience,” Anderson said.

Indeed, the Gamecocks placed third against what the coaches like to call “a stacked field” on a challenging golf course, and they did so without their “best stuff” early in the third round.

The threatening weather predicted for Wednesday morning forced tournament officials to adjust the schedule. After completing their second rounds at mid-afternoon Tuesday, teams went back out to start their thirds in cold, windy conditions.

By the time the horn stopped play for the day, Carolina’s one-shot lead after the second round had become seven-shot deficit. Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, ranked No. 3 in the world amateur rankings, especially struggled late Tuesday and played her 11 holes in five over par.

“We wanted to get in a groove and finish on a positive note (in completing the third round), and we did,” Anderson said. “It’s what we needed for momentum in the coming week.”

Seniors Lois Kaye Go and Ana Pelaez emphasized the squad’s quality depth, backing up their coach’s reasons for optimism. Go fashioned her best collegiate finish, earning second in the individual competition at 4-under-par 212. Pelaez bounced back from an opening 75 to share sixth individually at even-par 216.

Add freshman Paula Kirner to the mix. She played as an individual and her score did not count in the team standings, but she finished tied for 20th overall at 4-over 220.

Put all the pieces of the puzzle together and earning a third-place finish against an outstanding field without playing their best should be a confidence building, Anderson said in looking ahead.

The Gamecocks have two regular-season tournaments before the SEC Championship in April. In addition, four players — Roussin-Bouchard, Palaez (No. 23 in the world rankings), senior Pimnipa Panthong (No. 56) and Kirner — will compete in the prestigious Augusta National Women’s Invitational.

Then, it’s on to the NCAAs in May, and the Gamecock Invitational performance did nothing to diminish Carolina’s lofty goals.

Chip shots. West Columbia’s Jensen Castle, a Gray Collegiate graduate who plays for the University of Kentucky, tied for 15th at 2-over-par 218 in the Gamecock Invitational. ... Registration for the 2021 Drive, Chip and Putt competition is open online at Midlands area local qualifying sites include Par Tee Golf Center in West Columbia on May 8 and Mid-Carolina Club in Prosperity on June 14. The top three in each age group advance to the sub-regional at the Spur at Northwoods on Aug. 28. ... Former Clemson All-American Bryson Nimmer has received a sponsor’s exemption to compete in his hometown PGA Tour tournament, the RBC Heritage, on Hilton Head Island in April. Defending champion Webb Simpson leads a contingent for former winners who have committed to compete at Harbour Town. ... The team of Thomas Todd III and Frank Wrenn IV joined the duo of Ryan Parker and Jason Rossetti in earning spots in the 2021 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball championship in qualifying at the DeBordieu Club. The Kyle Bearden-Jordan Sease team will be first alternate.