After a lukewarm start in Arizona, finishing ninth out of 15, the Fighting Illini women’s golf team finally caught their stride Monday and Tuesday in Fairfax, California.
On its return trip to the Meadow Club Intercollegiate, Illinois finished in fifth place with a total score of 592, outpacing the two Big Ten teams also present at the tournament, Minnesota and Michigan, who finished 11th and tied for 14th, respectively.
Junior Bing Singsumalee and sophomore Tristyn Nowlin continued to lead the way for the Illini after standout performances in Arizona, each finishing in the top-20. Singhsumalee finished tied for 10th with a score of 1-over-par for the tournament. Nowlin followed Singhsumalee, tying for 18th — which was highlighted by a 1-under-par round of 71 on Tuesday.
Singhsumalee came into this week after carding a 2-under finish at Westbrook, where she led the Illini alongside senior Dana Gattone and freshman Ali Morallos. A pair of consistent rounds — an even par score of 72 on Monday and 1-over-par (73) on Tuesday — meant Singhsumalee was the top finisher for the Illini once again.
And coming into the week being familiar with the course — having played Meadow Club during the Illini’s first outing last year — helped prepare Singhsumalee with her approach.
“Just being aware of our surroundings is really important,” Singhsumalee said. “We didn’t really realize it last year that a lot of the mountains and the elevation really take a toll on reading lines and club selection so we really focused in on that this year.”
For Nowlin, the beginning of the two-day tournament in Fairfax got off to a rough start with a 4-over-par round on Monday. A strong rally on Tuesdaybrought her back to 3-over-par. Her top 20 finish was an improvement from her performance at the Westbrook Invitational, where she tied for 31st.
On her return trip to Meadow Club, Nowlin was focused in on her short game, specifically when facing the precarious greens on the course.
“The designer of the course actually made it kind of like an optical illusion,” Nowlin said. “Since it’s kind of in-between mountains, the greens look relatively flat but if you kind of look at them by themselves they’re pretty undulating and I think that’s something that we all just paid attention to.”
Nowlin shared her knowledge of the course ahead of time with Morallos, who competed there for the first time when the tournament began on Monday.
In Nowlin’s eyes, it all comes down to the approach.
“Meadow Club is really a good test all around. (Head coach Renee Slone) and I actually talked about [how] it’s kind of a course you have to play backwards,” Nowlin said. “First when you get up to a tee you look [and go] ‘Where’s the pin at?’ Then you realize where you want to be on the green and then you go back to the fairway and think ‘Where in the fairway do I need to be to hit to that section of the green that I want to be on?’”
Illinois will be taking a week off before heading into spring break, when it will play in two tournaments — Briar’s Creek Invitational in Johns Island, South Carolina, and the Mountain View Collegiate in Tucson, Arizona.
To get ready for the two-day and three-day tournaments, the team will buckle down and work on short game drills, while the coaches start looking at performances from the spring season thus far.
“It’s actually really good that we have an off-week,” Nowlin said. “That way we can kind of analyze what we did well, what we didn’t do so well and then kind of design the practices.”