ORLANDO, Fla. – Kent State could be easily spotted in the first round of their spring season opener on Sunday by the giant wagging dog tail. Assistant coach Jenny Gleason’s dad put a bright yellow Kent State t-shirt on his 6-year-old Golden Retriever, Sky, and brought her out to Eagle Creek to walk along the cart paths to support the Golden Flashes. At times in the university’s history, a Golden Retriever has been the athletic mascot. It’s that way again this week.
Sky wagged her tail happily, posed for pictures, then trotted off to watch junior transfer Emily Price par the 11th hole.
Scores: UCF Challenge
It’s not always sunshine and dog slobber in the Midwest. Until last week, Kent State players hadn’t actually hit a golf ball off of real grass. It makes it that much more impressive they began the UCF Challenge with a 12-under team effort. That was better than every team except Arkansas, which played three tournaments in the fall.
Kent State played none.
“Everyone is a little bit like, even going to sleep last night, you’re like, wow what’s going to happen,” Strom said.
A year ago this week, Kent State won its fourth tournament title of the season at Eagle Creek. Seniors Karoline Stormo and Pimnipa Panthong finished T-4 and seventh, respectively, on the individual leaderboard, a combined 11 under. Panthong transferred to South Carolina for a fifth year and Stormo has since turned professional.
This is new-look Kent State, and with a bit of a chip on the shoulder. It’s a different vibe, but Strom still feels like the team picked up right where it left off in March 2020. They’re intentional at home and they mesh well on the road.
“I’ve intentionally not tried to compare because it is such a different look,” Strom said, “but these guys can do a lot of different things, too.”
The practice facilities were humming after Sunday’s first round. There are plenty of teams in the field likely cherishing the time spent on real grass. Kent State got its first taste of that last week when Strom flew her players down early for a few holes across town at Timacuan, then two 18-hole practice rounds at Eagle Creek. An extra 27 holes made all the difference.
“Getting on grass, getting those feels back – they’re just so good that you give them a little bit of time and it comes back really quickly,” she said.
Strom spent several minutes on the range post-round with senior Chloe Salort, one of the big holdovers from last year’s squad. A year ago, Salort was working on a break-through in her mental game, which is sometimes harder to stick with because the fruits of the work aren’t always so obvious.
After an opening round of even-par 72, Salort lined up several drivers with her coach and talked through each. In between shots, she told Strom she was able to get over the poor shots quicker on Sunday – that she decided she just wasn’t going to waste energy on them.
Three players in the Kent State lineup went under par, including Price and fellow Englishwoman Caley McGinty. Price’s 7-under 65 put her at the top of the individual leaderboard. Three closing birdies helped immensely.
“I think I’m more prone to be adaptable to wind,” she said. “England is a very windy, rainy cold place so I know how to keep balls low, adjust. I’m very equipped with that kind of weather.”
Price hasn’t played a college golf tournament for 13 months. It’s been so long that initially, it felt strange to be out there.
Price was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2019 at South Carolina. She has a fresh outlook at Kent State.
“A change was necessary for me, I think,” she said. “The environment at Kent seemed like a really good fit for me for what I was looking for, what I wanted.”
The Golden Flashes also gained Valentina Albertazzi for this spring, a transfer from Nova Southeastern. Fifth-year senior Marissa Kirkwood is back in the lineup after struggling to break in last year.
In that way, new faces don’t necessarily translate to lack of experience.
Strom goes back to a team meeting in the lobby of their hotel the night before the first round. The Flashes spread out and went through their yardage books. As they wrapped it up, Price gave the team a little verbal boost.
“To have that kind of leadership from someone who’s new to our team?” Strom said. “I think that just kind of shows you where they are as a group.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/01/college-golf-ucf-challenge-kent-state-women/