2008-09 Women's Golf Outlook
Sept. 2, 2008
A tale of two seasons.
This is what head women's golf coach Melissa Luellen has dubbed her upcoming seventh season as head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Coming off a fifth place finish at the NCAA Championships, led by NCAA Champion Azahara Munoz and fellow All-American Anna Nordqvist, the Sun Devils set their sights on taking the women's field by storm and claiming ASU's seventh NCAA team championship. Although the Sun Devils looks to be stacked with talent, the road to their coveted goal will not be without a few bumps.
With two star recruits not enrolling until January, the Sun Devils fall season's roster will contain only five players and the team will be without the service of associate head coach Missy Farr-Kaye. Farr-Kaye will be undergoing treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer during the fall season. Although she will try to be with the team whenever possible, she is expected to return to the team full-time in the spring semester.
'Missy is a great role model for our players to show how to face life's difficulties and challenges with the utmost class and determination,' says Luellen. 'She has all of her fancy scarves and big earrings ready to go for when she loses her hair. It will be an educational experience for our players and I think she will inspire them.'
Although limited in quantity, the roster for the fall is stocked with quality. Munoz, the Sun Devils' ninth individual NCAA Champion, will look to lead her team in her senior year. Munoz etched in her first tournament win by hitting a 25-ft putt at the NCAA Championships last season in Albuquerque, N.M., and compiled a 71.97 stroke average. Fresh off a great summer in which she was runner-up at the U.S. Amateur, the Malaga, Spain native will enter her final season as a Sun Devil playing her best golf and looking to challenge to be the NCAA Player of the Year. Munoz will also represent her home country in the World Amateur Team Championships held in Adelaide, Australia.
'What a fun thing it has been to watch Aza flourish with her confidence and develop into a confident player,' says Luellen. 'She has been close [to winning a tournament] so many times and when she finally broke through her confidence completely changed. She is playing the best golf she's ever played.'
Munoz's fellow senior Jennifer Osborn will also compete again for the Sun Devils. After earning All-American honors her freshman and sophomore campaigns, Osborn struggled some in her junior season, although the Huntington Beach, Calif., native did tally two top 10 finishes during the season.
'A great goal for Jen would be to make an All-American team again,' says Luellen. 'She is very key to our success. I know she realizes that this is her senior year and how fast it has gone. I know she wants to contribute in a big way.'
Like Munoz, All-American Nordqvist looks to take the helm this season. The 2007 NGCA Freshman of the Year is coming off a fantastic summer. The junior won the Ladies British Open Amateur and also placed sixth in the Ladies European Tour Scandinavian Open, finishing one shot out of second. Nordqvist, who tied for fifth at this year's NCAA Championships, will look to battle for NCAA Player of the Year. Nordqvist will represent Sweden in the fall at the World Amateur.
'Anna is playing great,' says Luellen. 'She's really rolling with confidence and I know she wants to knock Duke's Amanda Blumenherst off her NCAA Player of the Year perch.'
Juliana Murcia quietly surprised the conference last season when she placed ninth at the Pac-10 Championship. The junior from Bogotá, Columbia recently won the Columbian Open and was named to her native nation's World Amateur team this October.
'July was highly disappointed that she didn't make it to the U.S. Women's Amateur but to be able to bounce back and win her national championship was a real thrill and a real shot of confidence for her,' says Luellen. 'She is really serious about playing great golf. I think we'll see a lot out of her this year.'
Liisa Kelo rounds out the fall roster, as well as the five that competed at last year's NCAA Championships. Kelo competed in six tournaments last season for the Sun Devils, including both the NCAA Regional and NCAA Championships. While Kelo's average may not be the lowest on the team, the junior from Mexico City is crucial to the team's cohesiveness.
'Liisa brings a great sense of humor and an insight and perspective that is really refreshing,' says Luellen. 'Don't get me wrong, she is very competitive and wants to contribute to the team's success. She is there to make a difference.'
The start of the spring season adds a new chapter to the team with the addition of two highly touted European recruits and the return of Farr-Kaye. Carlota Ciganda of Spain and Giulia Molinaro of Italy will join the team in January and will make an immediate impact on the already talented squad.
'I really think the team we have in the fall could win every tournament,' says Luellen. 'I feel like the team in the spring should win every tournament.'
Ciganda, who has been the No. 1 ranked female amateur in Europe the past two years, became the youngest player to win the European Championship. In 2007, Ciganda defeated now teammate Nordqvist in the final round of the 2007 Ladies' British Amateur. Regarded by her Spanish teammates as the best player, Ciganda will join Munoz on the Spanish World Amateur team. Like teammates Munoz and Nordqvist, Ciganda will look to be a key player in the battle for Player of the Year, even though she will only have a semester to do it.
'Carlota is an amazing talent who really wants to experience the college life and experience,' says Luellen. 'She is a phenom. Aza and Anna have already set the bar high and Carlota will come in and see if she can zip in there.'
Molinaro will be the fifth Sun Devil to head to Australia in the fall to compete in the World Amateur. The Italian National Junior Champion, Molinaro joins Munoz and Nordqvist as Scotland's Duke of York Tournament Champions.
'Giulia is a great player. She has a really solid golf swing and she hits it really far,' says Luellen. 'I know she's been working hard and when she gets here she is going to be rested and ready to go.'
Due to five players participating in the 2008 World Amateur, held October 8-19 in Adelaide, Australia, the Sun Devils will have a lighter than normal fall schedule. Starting off with the NCAA Fall Preview at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owing Mill, Md., the Sun Devils will be traveling east in all three tournaments of the fall season. The team will then will make their annual trek to the Mason Rudolph Invitational, held in Franklin, Tenn. The Sun Devils cap their fall season with a trip to Auburn, Ala., for The Derby Invitational. All three tournaments have a competitive field, stacked with the top schools in the nation.
'Our fall is kind of tough travel. We're traveling east in all the fall tournaments,' says Luellen. 'We hate to miss the Stanford Intercollegiate, but with the World Amateur, the team just can't miss that much school.'
The second half of the season starts up February 9 with a trip to a familiar tournament, the Northrop Grumman Regional held in Palos Verdes, Calif. After that, the Sun Devils head to a familiar event in an unusual place, as this year's Wildcat Invitational will be held in Puerto Penasco, Mexico from February 23-25. In early March, the team heads to Sorrento Florida for the UCF Challenge, helmed by former Sun Devil and current Central Florida head coach Emily Klein. The Sun Devils compete in the Betsy Rawls Longhorn Invitational, held in Austin, Texas, from March 20-22 before hosting their annual PING/ASU Invitational in early April.
After placing third this past season at the Pac-10 Championships, the Sun Devils look to reclaim their conference title at the Pac-10 Championships held at the Stanford Golf Course in Stanford, Calif. The Sun Devils will host the NCAA West Regional this season and will look to extend the nation's current longest streak of consecutive NCAA Championship appearances to 18 with a trip to the NCAA Championships held in Owing Mills, Md.
'Hosting the NCAA West Regional in the spring of 2009 is a great asset for our team to play our home course, a course we are obviously familiar and confident on,' says Luellen. 'It is so nice to be able to stay home and not have the big question mark of where we're going for Regionals.'
Despite the roster not being complete until the spring, the Sun Devils look to turn some heads this season. With the inspiration of Farr-Kaye and the talented makeup of the team, ASU looks to be on top in 2009 and no one is more excited than Luellen.
'It is going to be a joy and a pleasure to be around the team everyday at practice. This team has such incredible talent,' says Luellen. 'When we get our freshman in January and Missy starts traveling in March, it's all going to gel and I think we will build it up at the right time. The tale will be told in May at the NCAA Championship.'