South Carolina reloads, remains among best in women’s golf

USC’s women’s golf team lost three players from the 2022-23 team that finished tied for fifth in the NCAA national championship, and one of the major returnees struggled in summer competition.

But any suggestion that the Gamecocks would not remain among the nation’s best has been dispelled quickly. They rolled to a convincing victory in the season-opening tournament against what the coaches call “a stacked field.”

Other teams rebuild. Coach Kalen Anderson’s squad reloads.

“We have a lot of upside,” said Anderson, who in her 14 seasons at Carolina has developed one of the nation’s most consistently excellent programs. “We’re young, but we’re exceptionally talented.”

Define talent this way: Two freshmen, Maylis Lamoure and Vairana Heck, posted top-10 finishes in their first college tournaments. “They’re not afraid to shoot low numbers,” the coach said.

Or maybe define talent this way: Junior Louise Rydqvist, who had not played to her standards this summer, flashed her All-American form by sharing the individual title in the opener. “Some of the best golf since she’s been here,” Anderson said.

Or perhaps define talent this way: The Gamecocks earned top-five finishes in their four fall tournaments with All-American Hannah Darling, No. 15 in the world amateur rankings, relegated to the third or fourth spot on the five-player tournament teams. “She’s been erratic, but she will find her rhythm and the possibilities are exciting,” Anderson noted.

Anderson called the team’s intrasquad qualifying rounds “exceptional and we went into the season playing well. We wanted to see who good we were, how we stacked up against really good competition.”

USC did just fine, winning the prestigious Annika Intercollegiate. A third in the Mason Rudolph, a fifth in the rain-shortened Blessings Collegiate and a tie for fourth in the Jackson Stephens Cup followed.

“I’m pleased but not surprised,” Anderson said. “We need a lot of growth and development, and our goal is to get better every day. Like always, in the long term, we want to compete for the national championship, and we’re in that realm.”

Rydqvist enjoyed the best fall individually, adding a fifth and a pair of 12th-place finishes to her victory. Her win in the Annika collegiate tournament earned her a place in the LPGA’s Annika, set for Nov. 9-12 in Belleair, Florida.

Meanwhile, Darling (Scotland), Heck (France) and Mia Sandtorv Lussand (Norway) represented their home countries in the International Golf Federation’s event in Abu Dhabi.

“Facing competition like that is a plus,” said Anderson, who annually builds one of the nation’s most challenging schedules. “There are a lot of great teams and we have to play consistently, but we’re in a good place. We have been one of the top five teams in the fall.”

The Gamecocks return to competition in February, making a two-tournament swing to California — a schedule set up with the national tournament in mind.

The championship moves to a new venue in Carlsbad and, Anderson said, “I want our players to get use to the conditions, the grasses, the poa annua (a grass used extensively on West Coast courses). The more experience we get, the better.”

There’s every reason to expect the Gamecocks will be in California again in May. They have reloaded again.

Chip shots. Frankie Harris, a redshirt sophomore, won his first college tournament individually in leading USC’s men to a fourth-place finish in the Daniel Island Intercollegiate at Daniel Island Club. Senior Rafe Reynolds finished fourth individually. . . . Jon Weiss (Florence) outdueled Sam Jackson (West Columbia) and Jordan Sease (Lexington) to win the SCGA’s Mid-Amateur Championship at the CC of Camden. . . . Chloe Holder shot a school record-tying 63, Annabelle Pancake posted a final-round 66 to finish second individually, and Isabella Rawl birdied three of her last four holes to lead Clemson’s women to the co-championship of the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, North Carolina. . . . The Columbia team of Nabila Inak and Spencer Skiff captured the championship division title in the WSCGA-SCGA Mixed Team tourney at Fripp Island’s Ocean Creek Course. Liz and Tom Carroll (Hilton Head Island) won the senior championship. . . . Will Hartman (Marvin, North Carolina) won the prestigious Bobby Chapman Junior Invitational at the CC of Spartanburg. William Jennings (Greenville) finished second. . . . Clemson’s men finished their fall season with a 10th-place finish in the Ka’anapali Classic in Hawaii. Sophomore Thomas Higgins finished eighth individually to lead the Tigers.