Courtney Hooton and the Crimson finishsed second at the Nittany Lion Invitational (Harvard Athletic Communications).
By the Harvard Women's Golf Team
Coming off its best ever scoring performance at Yale, the Crimson traveled to State College, Pa., to compete in Penn State's annual Nittany Lion Invitational. The 54-hole competition was held on Penn State's Blue Course and featured a strong field including a couple Big Ten contenders. The tournament rounds were Friday through Sunday with a Thursday practice round. The team left for Penn State on Wednesday after classes. While they had only one day of practice in the week before leaving, they were able to get more rest going into the tournament. This ultimately proved to be a positive change for the team.
Another major change this year was the tournament setup. Last year, teams played five players and counted four scores, but this year, teams were allowed to play six players and still count four scores. Harvard only had five players in total, but despite this initial disadvantage, they were able to pull through.
Round one of the Nittany Lion Invitational proved to be the toughest of the three days. The course was soft and muddy from the previous night's rain. Harvard golf hoped to get off to a strong start with scores that would put them on the leaderboard and place them in contention. A one pm shotgun start gave the players plenty of time to sleep in and get a full warm up in before heading off to their holes. Freshman Christine Lin (Austin, Texas) posted a strong opening round of 1-over-par-73 amidst the afternoon winds that added adversity to the already tough layout. Sophomore Tiffany Lim (San Jose, Calif.) finished with a 76, followed closely by fellow sophomore Brenna Nelsen (Monte Sereno, Calif. ) who shot 77. Freshman Courtney Hooton (Del Mar, Caif.) matche! d Nelsen's 77. Junior captain Bonnie Hu (Fremont, Calif.) was hitting balls close, but unfortunately, her putts just didn't seem to drop, resulting in an opening round of 79. As round one drew to a close, Harvard stood in 3rd behind Penn State and Old Dominion -- two strong teams with solid reputations. After a quick post-round practice as the sun went down, Harvard was optimistic for the following day and hoped to make a charge on moving day.
Low temperatures Saturday morning added an extra obstacle, but the team stayed focused. Lim led the team with an impressive 72 despite hitting a mere 9 greens. Nelsen also saw the importance of short game during day two as she found herself having to scramble from 60 yards multiple times. Nelsen finished with a solid 77. The two freshmen posted good rounds; Hooton with a 74 and Lin with a 76. Hu again found trouble on the greens despite good ball-striking, and she settled for a 79. The combined score of 299 was a few strokes better than the first round but lost ground on the field and Harvard slipped to 6th place; 4 strokes out of second place. Although the team came in ! with solid scores, each member felt motivated to achieve more and headed straight for the range. Although head coach Kevin Rhoads had left to support the men's team at Yale, his aid was still very much available. With the help of assistant coach Claire Sheldon's video skills, Coach Rhoads was able to provide input to those who had questions about their swings. After a long day of play and practice, the team knew all they had left to do was hydrate, refuel, and get back in the game.
Day three of the tournament was an 8:30 shotgun start, so the team woke up bright and early, grabbing a quick breakfast on the road before arriving at the course. Now familiar with the course layout, the Crimson went into the final day confident that they could gain ground on the leaders by putting together a solid round. And that they did. All five players produced outstanding final rounds. Hu led the charge with a three-under-par 69. Lim followed suit with a one-under-par 71. Hooton and Lin both shot 72, and Nelsen carded a 73. The team's combined total of four-under-par 284 set a new program record for lowest 18-hole score by four strokes! The previous single-round scoring record of even-par 288 was set during the 2008 Ivy League Championship, which helped Harvard clinch the title for the first time ever. Harvard's 284 was also the lowest team score recorded on Sunday.
Harvard leapfrogged over their competitors and finished squarely in second place behind host Penn State after starting the day in sixth. The team's record-setting final round score was a product of their hard work, excellent mentality, and overall team camaraderie.
In conclusion, the Harvard Women's Golf Team had a rewarding experience at the Nittany Lion Women's Invitational. Not only did they overcome a deficit to take second place over Old Dominion by 6 strokes, they also shot the lowest team score in Harvard Women's Golf history, a 4-under total of 284, on the final day. Every player posted scores below 80 in all three rounds, contributed at least two scores to the team's score, and all five players finished in the top quarter of the strong field. Harvard held a comfortable margin over the other three Ivy League teams in the event.
Despite falling short to the champion, Penn State, the team brought and maintained a positive, dynamic outlook towards the tournament. They successfully persevered, both mentally and physically, through the cool and windy conditions. The Nittany Lion Invitational serves as great momentum and a confidence booster for the team as they head to their next tournament, the Stanford Intercollegiate, on October 19.