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March 6, 2013

Women’s golf: USC tourney already among best

Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island, Darius Rucker, golf ... put them together and the sum is a perfect way to spend a few days.

Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island, Darius Rucker, golf ... put them together and the sum is a perfect way to spend a few days.

Fifteen women’s teams will share that experience this weekend in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, one of the nation’s top tournaments. It is hosted by USC and features five squads ranked among the nation’s top 15.

“A wonderful event,” USC coach Kalen Harris said. “The members and staff at Long Cove do a phenomenal job of running the tournament, the course is challenging and, of course, Darius Rucker is a huge draw.”

Rucker, a USC alumnus, will give a private concert tonight, and the teams will compete over 54-holes Friday-Sunday. Long Cove is ranked as one of the state’s best courses.

Defending national champion Alabama, currently fourth in the Golfweek poll, and No. 5 North Carolina head the field rich in SEC and ACC teams.

“(USC director of golf) Puggy Blackmon came up with the idea, mentioned it someone at Long Cove and it took off,” Harris said. “They want to make it the best event, and we’re proud to be associated with it.”

Harris hopes her team, which finished seventh in its first spring event, can use the weekend for a steppingstone toward the strong finishes that have become a trend in her five seasons at USC. The Gamecocks have won two regional titles in the past three years, qualified for four of the past five national championships and in 2012 finished fifth in the national tournament.

“We’re very young (five freshmen on the nine-player roster) and every year is different, but we have standards,” she said. “We’re always on the move; we want to improve. Every day is part of the process and we look toward the end of the year.

“This tournament is part of the process and we look to do well.”

In the spring’s first tournament in Sorrento, Fla., the Gamecocks led after the first day and played well in the final round, but she said, “The second day (18 over par) put us in a tough spot. There are a lot of great things to build on” from the event.

Harris will take seven players, five counting toward the team score and two playing as individuals, to Hilton Head and expects the lineup to shift in the events leading to the SEC championship in Birmingham.

“We want to get experience, then as we get closer to the postseason, I look for the lineup to establish itself,” she said. “Finishing fifth last year provided a lot of motivation, and we have spent the fall and spring working to get better every day.”

The next step starts Friday at Long Cove, always a nice place to spend a weekend.

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