Conference Goes For Bragging Rights At Pac-10/SEC Challenge

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There is little debate that the two best conferences in women's golf are the Pac-10 and the SEC, but we're about to find out which conference is number one.

Stanford plays host to the much anticipated Pac-10/SEC Challenge, pitting the top two conferences against each other in a head-to-head tournament at Stanford Golf Course this weekend, November 5-7. Tee times begin at 7:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, while Sunday's final round goes off at 8:30 a.m.

All 12 SEC schools and nine of the 10 Pac-10 teams will compete for the tournament title and for bragging rights. Perennial power Arizona State does not keep a full roster in the fall and was unable to commit. The two conferences own all five spots in the top 5 national rankings, seven of the top 10 and 14 of the top 25. The top five ranked teams are #1 LSU, #2 USC, #3 Alabama, #4 Cal and #5 UCLA. Pac-10 schools have won four of the last eight national championships in women's golf.

The event is the brainchild of Stanford head coach Caroline O'Connor, who originally pitched the idea to fellow coaches 2 and a half years ago. It finally became official in November 2009.

"There has always been a running verbal debate about who has the best college golf conference in the country and I thought why can't we settle it on the golf course," O'Connor said. "It was sort of pie in the sky stuff two and a half years ago, but everyone in the Pac-10 and SEC thought it would be great if we could put together a tournament where we could all play against each other."

After formally pitching the idea to the SEC coaches and leadership during a tournament at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach during the summer of 2009, O'Connor sealed it by offering to host and launch the first of what she hopes to be an annual event.

"Five schools already want to host next year so we're heading in the right direction," O'Connor said.

The tournament will follow a typical college golf format with a little twist to allow one conference to win the title and the bragging rights that go with it. Each school will have five players and the top four scores over the three days will be used to determine the winning team. In addition, they will take the best four scores from each conference over the three days to settle the bragging rights, which could be significant.

"I'm really excited about this," O'Connor said. "We're always going back and forth with friendly banter about who is the best conference in the country. It's always the Pac-10 and the SEC. Now we can claim the bragging rights with this tournament. And it's meaningful because it will help with recruiting. If you're one of the top 10 schools in the SEC and you won this tournament you will be able to tell a kid 'you have a chance to play in the best golf conference in the country. The best.' You can say that now. If we go out and beat the SEC we can say we have proven head to head that we are the best conference in the country. I think it's really exciting for everyone. There's nothing quite like this in college golf."

The caliber of play is what will make this tournament especially unique. The Pac-10 and SEC feature eight of the top 10 and 18 of the top 25 players in the national rankings. LSU's Megan McChrystal is ranked No. 1 and is followed by No. 2 Camilla Lennarth (Alabama), No. 3 Brooke Pancake (Alabama), No. 4 Lisa McCloskey (USC), No. 5 Marta Silva Zamora (Georgia), No. 6 Pia Halbig (Cal) and No. 7 Lizette Salas (USC).

"You will be looking at the next generation of the best players in the LPGA," O'Connor said. "That is the caliber that will be competing this week. If you look at the scores some of these players are putting on the board right now they could compete on the tour right now. You can walk the fairways with literally the world's next golf stars. Many of these girls will be the best players in the world."

Facing that kind of field could be intimidating for some, but not O'Connor.

"My philosophy is live by the sword, die by the sword," she said. "I like to compete against the best teams in the country. If we're going to compete at the end of the year when it gets to championship time we need to be prepared and the only way to be prepared is to play against great schools week in and week out. When you look at the caliber of this field you don't see this kind of competition until you get to the national championships so it will be a great test."

Admission to the three-day event is free and parking is available in the Stanford Golf Course lot.

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