Mother Nature tried her best Monday to slow the Kentucky women’s golf team at the season-opening Minnesota Invitational but the Wildcats refused to let a day filled with weather delays halt their momentum.
UK, featuring three freshmen playing in their first collegiate tournament, is tied for first heading into the final day of competition in Woodbury, Minnesota. Currently at 2-over par in the middle of the second round, the Wildcats have a chance to capture their second team title in as many seasons and their first away from Lexington since the fall of 2013.
They’ll try to do so Tuesday at the Prestwick Golf Club (6,297 yards, par 72) with less than a round left to go.
Frequent weather delays played a major story throughout Monday. Originally scheduled for 36 holes of golf, teams were unable to get in more than 27 holes because of delayed tee times and an additional three lightning delays once competition began.
Play was finally called at 5:48 p.m. local time with more inclement weather in the area and daylight fading. With teams’ travel schedules, tournament officials have canceled the third round. A champion will be decided with the conclusion of the second round Tuesday.
That means the Wildcats are right in the thick of things with less than a round of golf to play. Virginia Tech is atop the leaderboard with Kentucky at 2-over par with a host of other teams right behind them. Four other teams are within four shots and 11 of the 15 teams in the tournament are within nine shots of each other.
With eight teams in the field having made NCAA postseason play a year ago, there’s talent chasing the Kentucky. But the Wildcats are either too young and too stubborn to care of such distractions like a crowded leaderboard and weather delays – or maybe they’re just that good.
All that matters after day one is they’re leading the pack with three golfers currently in the top 20, including highly touted freshman Jensen Castle, who led the tournament late in the first round and is currently tied for eighth place in her first collegiate tournament.
“Our team couldn’t wait to play today,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “We knew going into it that we would be pulled off the course several times and they handled it really well. We are so proud of their toughness today.
“We’ve got some great holes in front of us tomorrow and have put ourselves in a good position,” Borst said. “The girls just need to keep having fun and stay aggressive.”
The tournament will resume Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET with teams picking back up where they left off Monday evening. Much-improved weather is expected Tuesday with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 70s. Live scoring will continue to be available at GolfStat.com.
All six Wildcats competing are currently in the top 26, led by Castle. Believed to be the highest-rated signee in Kentucky women’s golf history – and certainly among the most decorated – she’s at 1-under par through five holes of the second round.
If there was any concern about first-tournament jitters or a step up in competition, Castle quickly swatted those away. Underscoring why she was ranked No. 9 overall and No. 4 in the class of 2019 at the end of her high school career by the American Junior Golf Association, she rolled in three birdies in her first six holes of college golf and six overall in the first round.
Castle got as low as 4-under par late in her first round to take sole possession of the lead. The two-time South Carolina state champion – who was recently named one of the “top 10 freshmen to watch in women’s college golf in 2019-20” by Golfweek – is eight shots behind Georgia’s Caterina Don for the lead.
With the injection of youth on this UK women’s golf team, it’s easy to overlook the Wildcats’ talented experience, but in the hunt as they are so often are veterans Sarah Shipley and Rikke Svejgård Nielsen.
Svejgård Nielsen is just behind Castle in a tie for 11th place at even par. The junior, who experienced similar success in her first tournament a season ago with a championship at the MSU Greenbrier Invitational – actually her first collegiate tournament – carded three birdies in the opening round and already has two to her name through six holes in the second round.
Meanwhile Shipley is picking up right where she left off this summer when she won two tournaments in the course of a month at the Women’s Golf Association of Michigan and the talent-rich Women’s Western Amateur. The senior is tied for 20th at 2-over par with three first-round birdies.
In addition to Castle, UK has two other freshmen competing in this week’s tournament and both were impressive in their debuts.
Kelsey Wylie posted a 3-over par 75 in the first round and has moved up to a tie for 26th as she nears the midway point of her second round with two birdies. She’s remained at 3-over par in the second round with a pair of birdies.
Fellow freshman Marissa Wenzler, the 2018 Ohio High School Athletic Association state champion, carded a 2-over-par 74 in her first 18 rounds as a Wildcat. She’s tied with Wylie in 26th after a bogey early in her second round.
Competing as an individual, junior Sarah Fite continued to show an improved game that showed up in practices this preseason. She was in the top 10 for much of the first round with four straight birdies from hole No. 9 to hole No. 12. Her tournament-opening 73 tied her career low set at the 2019 Colonel Classic and has positioned her for one of the best finishes of her career. Through four holes in the second round, she’s at 1-over par overall and in a tie for 20th.
Regardless of Tuesday’s final outcome, Monday’s start was a positive one for a young but talented group. UK lost two seniors from last year in Claire Carlin and Leonie Bettel, the latter of which set the school record for single-season stroke average and most rounds of par or better in a season.
UK’s retooled roster appears to be ready for the challenge with the first of four fall team tournaments (five fall events overall).
This week’s appearance in the Minnesota Invitational marks Kentucky’s fourth in the last five seasons. UK placed fifth at least season’s tournament with Bettel tying for sixth, one of her five top-10 showings in 2018-19. Shipley is the only Wildcat with experience in the tournament and tied for 22nd a year ago. She tied for 54th in her UK debut in 2016, the same season in which UK great Isabelle Johansson tied for first.
GO CATS –
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