The Kentucky women’s golf team, which will pair three-fourths of the most talented freshman class in school history with a solid cast of returning veterans this week, begins its 2019-20 season Monday at the Minnesota Invitational.
Expectations are high despite losing seniors Leonie Bettel – the school record holder for single-season stroke average and rounds of par or better – and Claire Carlin because of a mix of high-end potential and some been-there, done-that veterans who are eager to take hold of the leadership reins.
Freshmen Jensen Castle – believed to be the highest ranked signee in Kentucky women’s golf history – Marissa Wenzler and Kelsey Wylie will join senior Sarah Shipley and junior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen in the lineup this week at the Prestwick Golf Club. Junior Sarah Fite will also make the trip and compete as an individual.
Play will begin Monday with 36 holes followed by Tuesday’s final round of 18. The tournament will be the first of four fall team tournaments (five fall events overall) and the beginning of what the Wildcats hope will result in a return to the postseason.
UK has made NCAA regionals in six of Golda Borst’s nine seasons but the Wildcats have their sights set on their first trip back since 2017. Taking it one step at a time with a new group, Borst and her team are focused on taking the first one this week in Woodbury, Minnesota.
“We are ready to get our season started this weekend at Minnesota,” Borst said. “It’s a tournament and course that we are familiar with, and even though our lineup is young, it’s a strong and experienced one. I was happy to see three of my freshmen qualify for the first event. They came in prepared to compete, and I’m proud of all of them for stepping up right away.
“This whole team is ready and excited to kick off the season. They have been waiting since April to get back on the course and represent Kentucky.”
It all gets started Monday at 8:40 a.m. ET off tees 1 and 10. The second round will immediately follow the first round on Monday, with the final 18 holes set to start Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET with a shotgun start.
The field consists of East Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Long Beach State, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), Minnesota (the host), Missouri, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, San Francisco, San Jose State, UTSA, and Virginia Tech. Eight of the 15 teams made NCAA postseason play a year ago
Live scoring will be available at GolfStat.com.
It will be Kentucky’s fourth appearance in the last five seasons at the Minnesota Invitational and the second one at the Prestwick Golf Club. The tournament was previously held at the Minikahda Club.
The Prestwick Golf Club will be playing at 6,297 yards, a par 72. With large undulating greens and strategically placed groves of mature trees, the course was recently named Course of the Year by the Midwest Golf Course Owners Association.
Kentucky 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 Minnesota Invitational 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.
Shipley will tee off from the fourth position but headlines this year’s team. With five career top-20 finishes on the collegiate level, the senior won two tournaments over the summer, first at the Women’s Golf Association of Michigan Championship in Saginaw, Michigan, and then at the talent-rich Women’s Western Amateur in Long Grove, Illinois.
The other veteran in the lineup, Svejgård Nielsen, had a solid first season at Kentucky as a sophomore. Not only did she post a 75.7 stroke average, the third best on last year’s team behind Bettel and Shipley, she totaled the second-most top-20 finishes (four), including an individual championship (the MSU Greenbrier Invitational) in her first collegiate tournament.
The freshmen playing this week come in with impressive high school credentials, especially those under Castle’s name. 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, Castle is a two-time South Carolina state champion, winning at both the 5A and 3A levels. In addition to owning numerous high school records and top-10 AJGA finishes, she placed second at the ANNIKA Invitational USA in January and second at the Girls Junior PGA Championship over the summer. The five-time All-State selection was recently named one of the “top 10 freshmen to watch in women’s college golf in 2019-20” by Golfweek.
Wylie finished second in qualifying for the first tournament after a stellar high school career. She’s the first individual state champion to come out of Faith West Academy and she reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s Texas Amateur Championship over the summer. She finished her high school career ranked in the top 150 of the AJGA class of 2019 rankings.
Wenzler was ranked No. 37 in those same rankings in the 2019 class and is considered a highly regarded freshman with a ton of upside. She won the 2019 Ohio High School Athletic Association state championship with the second-lowest two-round total in state history. The two-time Ohio All-State First Team selection qualified for the Girls Junior PGA Championship in Harford, Connecticut, over the summer.
Fite, playing as an individual, is coming off six appearances in 2018-19. She placed in the top 20 twice, including a career-best fifth-place showing at the MSU Greenbrier Invitational. This will mark the junior’s first appearance in the Minnesota Invitational.