One is a fiery competitor in the early stages of her college golf career, and the other, preparing for her last bow, prefers to lead by example. One comes from Spain, the other from the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Yet their results on the golf course are so much alike. And those two — senior Katelyn Dambaugh and freshman Ana Pelaez — are among the reasons South Carolina heads into the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship oozing with confidence.
In the Gamecocks’ two post-season tournaments, Dambaugh won the SEC individual title and Pelaez sharing the top spot in the NCAA Regional in Columbus, Ohio.
The World Amateur Golf Rankings reflect their performances. Dambaugh, from Goose Creek, is No. 5; Pelaez, from Malaga, Spain, is 24th.
“So special that Katelyn won the SEC,” Pelaez said.
“Ana has stepped in and played so well,” Dambaugh said.
Add the rest of the cast: Ainhoa Olarra, a steady performer with the fourth-best single-season scoring average in the program’s history; sophomore Marion Veysseyre, who gained experience in the nationals a year ago; and freshman Anita Uwadia, who shot 64 recently at Cobblestone Park.
No wonder USC will tee off Friday at Rich Harvest Farms in suburban Chicago with realistic hopes of improving on last year’s fifth-place finish. The 24 teams play three rounds with the top 15 advancing to the fourth round Monday that determines the individual champion. The top eight schools then move into match play to determine the team title.
“It’s kind of sad that this will be my last college (and amateur) tournament; these four years have gone by so fast,” Dambaugh said. “But at the same time, we have an opportunity to accomplish something really special.”
Associate head coach Puggy Blackmon believes this could be the program’s best team -- a impressive accolade since USC is one of only four teams to reach the national tournament in each of the last eight years.
“Winning the (NCAA) championship is our goal,” Pelaez said.
“People overlook us, and we want to change that,” said Dambaugh, an All-American.
Playing well at tournament time is the program’s trademark under coach Kalen Anderson. They have been to nine nationals in Anderson’s 10 seasons, won five regional titles since 2010, including the last three in a row, and have a pair of fifth-place finishes in the national tournament.
“It’s all coach,” Dambaugh said. “She has vision. We just follow her lead, and we get better.”
“The kids get better and better and better under Kalen,” said Blackmon, a successful men’s coach at Georgia Tech and USC before becoming USC golf’s director of development and aid to the women’s program. “She has that touch. She keeps them loose and that enables them to focus and to perform.”
NCAA women’s golf tournament
When: Friday – Wednesday
Where: Rich Harvest Farms, Sugar Grove, Ill.
USC’s lineup: Senior Katelyn Dambaugh, junior Ainhoa Olarra, sophomore Marion Veysseyre and freshmen Ana Pelaez and Anita Uwadia
Field: Alabama, Arizona State, Baylor, California, Clemson, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Furman, Kent State, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oregon, Pepperdine, Purdue, Southern Cal, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas, Texas Tech