Local golf notes

No. 14 USC women’s team looks strong this spring

bspear@ thestate.comFebruary 8, 2014 

If history repeats, the spring is loaded with promise for the USC women’s team. And answers start this week.

In six seasons under coach Kalen Harris, the Gamecocks have blossomed into an event-leading squad, and begin this season in a stronger position than before.

“On paper and in the polls, absolutely, we’re in a better place,” Harris said, looking toward a season that begins with this week’s Florida State Match-Up in Tallahassee, Fla.

After that, USC will host the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island.

“We have more quality depth,” Harris said. “We should be a stronger team.”

The Gamecocks posted top-five finishes in three of their four fall tournaments, and climbed to 14th in the Golfweek poll. Three players — freshman Katelyn Dambaugh (56), senior Samantha Swinehart (66), and sophomore Mary Fran Hillow (97) — are ranked among the top 100 individuals.

Dambaugh, Swinehart, Hillow, junior Justine Dreher, sophomore Sarah Schmelzel and senior Suzie Lee played in the fall events, but Harris has not set her lineup for the Tallahassee tournament.

“We’re still in the qualifying process,” she said. “We have excellent depth and good competition (for playing time). You never know who might surprise.”

One player who might move into the lineup is Jia Xin Yang, a freshman who compiled impressive credentials in her native China. “She has become more adjusted to school and her schedule,” Harris said. “We’re seeing some good things from her, and I expect she will contribute.”

As always, Harris’ goal is to have her team peaking at national tournament time, and “We will be working toward that,” she said. “We’ll find out quickly in those first tournaments where we stand and where we need to improve.”

Five of her six Carolina teams have advanced to the national tourney. The 2012 squad finished fifth.

Two (2010, ’12) won regional titles. The 2013 Gamecocks continued that pattern with a third in the SEC championship and a fourth in the West Regional before slumping to 20th in the national event.

“The good thing is we’re starting higher (14th nationally) than before,” Harris said. “Now, we need to build on that.”

Measuring devices

The USGA followed the R&A and will allow the use of distant measuring devices in its amateur competitions beginning this year.

The change applies only to the organization’s amateur tournaments, including qualifying, and allows players to measure distance only. Range finders will not be allowed in the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, U.S. Senior Open, or their qualifying events.

The decision to allow range finders followed a study during the 2013 USGA Women’s State Team and U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur championships. Officials said additional data will gathered on how the change impacts the pace of play.

Chip shots

Keenan Huskey (Greenville), who will join the USC team in the fall, won the boys’ title, and Ana Paula Valdes (Morelia, Mexico) captured the girls’ crown in the Sea Pines Junior Heritage at Hilton Head Island. ...

Charles Waller (Hilton Head Island) and Brigham Young (Santee) are among nine golfers from the Carolinas to report making two holes-in-one in 2013 to the CGA. A total of 271 reported aces to the CGAcers’ Hole-in-One Club. ...

Eight past champions — Graeme McDowell, Stewart Cink, Boo Weekley, Brandt Snedeker, Carl Pettersson, Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and Glen Day — have committed to the 46th RBC Heritage, the PGA Tour’s stop in South Carolina, April 17-20 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. Week-long badges and daily tickets are on sale online at rbcheritage.com or, by calling the tournament office at 843-671-2448.

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