Jan. 6, 2010
The 11th edition of Coach Carrie Forsyth's UCLA women's golf team continues a tradition of excellence in pursuit of the program's third NCAA championship with a combination of veteran leadership, outstanding experience and plenty of talent. Add to the mixture a group of players who realize the work ethic needed to reach the championship summit and a team whose defining characteristic is its consistency. With a little luck and some clutch performances, the Bruins figure to be right in the thick of the 2010 title chase at The Country Club of Landfall in late May.
A veteran coach whose legacy continues to grow, Forsyth sees the path to the championship as one that will originate in the über-competitive Pac-10 Conference.
"There are lots of strong teams this year ... starting in our own conference," she said. "We are the top-ranked team (Golfstat, Jan. 4, 2010) because of our consistency, but Arizona State and USC are great teams with lots of experience. All three of us finished on the podium last year, and I would expect that to happen again in 2010. We just want the order of finish with UCLA at the top."
The Bruins snatched the runner-up trophy last season, and despite the loss of two All-Americans to the professional ranks, they still boast enough NCAA experience to make a serious run for the national championship.
Among UCLA's three returning veterans are 63 collegiate starts and 195 rounds, including 24 rounds of NCAA Championship experience. That threesome has also won five tournament titles and each player has earned All-America acclaim during her career.
Senior captain Sydnee Michaels is the leader of the group, and Forsyth says much of the team's success rests on the 2008 2nd Team All-America's shoulders. Michaels entered the 2009-10 season with 31 career starts, 96 rounds and a collegiate scoring average of 74.3. Last season, the Temecula native underwent some swing changes and saw the results in the fall with a pair of Top 10 finishes in three starts -- her best fall to date.
"Sydnee's work on her swing has paid off," said Forsyth. "She wants to be ready to play at the next level and we hope she'll win a few more tournaments and dominate in the last half of her final season."
Michaels finished the fall campaign with the team's best scoring average -- 71.1 in eight rounds -- recorded three rounds under par, including a seven-under par 65 in the final round of the Mason Rudolph Championship to tie for second place.
Junior Glory Yang, a two-time second-team All-American, has established herself as one of the team's most consistent performers, who gets better as the season progresses. She also improved her productivity last season, breaking through with her first collegiate victory at the Topy Cup and doubling her total of rounds under par to 12. In addition, she increased her counter percentage to 90% last season and recorded two more Top 10 finishes than her freshman season.
"Glory quietly and consistently improves every year," said Forsyth. "This year she has made some changes in her long game, which we hope will translate into a better percentage of well-hit shots. She has a great short game."
In just two seasons, she has recorded 15 Top 20 finishes and placed in the Top 10 eight times. Her 18 career rounds under par equals Michaels' total.
The Bruins' other junior is Lalita Boonnoppornkul, who used her redshirt season last year. In the fall, Bonnoppornkul recorded a two-over par 73 in the first round of the Stanford tournament, a collegiate best score.
"Lalita continues to work hard on her game, and has improved quite a bit as a player," Forsyth said. "She is a wonderful teammate and a hard worker. We enjoy having her."
Consensus first-team All-American Stephanie Kono is UCLA's most consistent and highly-ranked player. As a freshman last season, Kono did not post a score above 77 and tied for the team lead with 12 rounds under par. In fact, 70% of her scores were within two strokes of par. She led the team in scoring average (72.2), counter percentage (97%) and sub-70 rounds (6). Her counter percentage was the highest in school history for a freshman.
"Stephanie is a great player. She is composed, consistent, a great teammate and role model and a wonderful person," Forsyth said. "Aside from being a very talented player, her most enviable quality is her poise. She never expends too much emotion out on the golf course."
Kono also won two tournaments last season, posting a pair of 66s to finish 12-under at the Match Play Championship and closing with a 66 to win the UCF Challenge in March. This fall, she placed no worse than a tie for sixth in three of four starts, and was four-under par through 11 rounds.
Sophomore Brianna Do logged nine rounds last season and finished with a scoring average of 77.4. She tied for 19th at the Wave Invitational in her best start. With expectations high for her this fall, she responded with some solid results. In her first start, she tied for 20th after posting a pair of 71s. She followed that up by tying for sixth at Stanford, posting a career-best score of 69 (-2) in the second round. She finished the fall campaign with a solid 72.9 scoring average and her coach's confidence.
"Brianna has improved her overall swing, attitude and work ethic, and it's all paid off for her," said Forsyth. "She's made a lot of changes since last year, and the results speak for themselves. The team needs her to contribute and she has responded well."
The Bruins' added three freshmen and a transfer to their roster in 2009-10. Tiffany Lua, Stacy Kim and Arianna Patterson began their first seasons in the fall and Lee Lopez will redshirt her sophomore year after transferring from Long Beach State.
"As a group, we feel this class has a lot of potential with Tiffany contributing right away, and Arianna and Stacy providing plenty of competition," Forsyth said. "In addition, Lee Lopez was the 2009 Big West Freshman of the Year and we're excited she chose to continue her education at UCLA."
Among the freshmen, Lua is the most seasoned player. She has played in several USGA events, including four U.S. Women's Amateurs. Last summer, she advanced to the semifinals after finishing sixth in the stroke play competition. She also boasts a semifinal appearance at the 2008 USWAPL.
In 11 fall rounds, Lua averaged 72.4 and recorded Top 10 results at Stanford (T6) and Turtle Bay (T5). Ninety-one percent of her rounds counted in team scoring.
Kim played as an individual in the Turtle Bay event, tying for 58th place. Also a USGA veteran, she played in the 2009 U.S. Women's Amateur and a pair of U.S. Girls Juniors. Also a consistent performer on the AJGA circuit, Kim recorded several Top 10 results, including a runner-up finish in the 2009 West Junior Open.
Patterson won the 2005 Nike Junior Redhawk by 10 shots during her AJGA competition and lettered four years in varsity golf at Santa Catalina School in Monterey. As a senior, she helped Santa Catalina to an undefeated regular season and was a three-year all-league selection. In high school postseason competition, she recorded solid finishes, including a 10th place result at the 2006 CIF-NCGA NorCal Girls Championship.
Lopez, who also earned All-Big West first-team honors last season, enjoyed an outstanding freshman campaign, leading the 49ers to their first NCAA Regional appearance of the decade. She posted a final scoring average of 73.1 with a low round of 64, eight Top 10 results and four rounds under 70. Over the summer, she also won the L.A. City Women's Championship.
Following is UCLA's 2010 Winter/Spring Schedule
Feb. 8-10: at Regional Challenge (Palos Verdes CC, Palos Verdes, CA)
Mar. 1-3: Bruin Wave Invitational (Robinson Ranch CC, Canyon Country, CA)
Mar. 26-28: at Betsy Rawls Invitational (Univ. Texas GC, Austin, TX)
Apr. 9-11: at PING/ASU Invitational (Karsten GC, Tempe, AZ)
Apr. 23-25: at Pac-10 Championship (Eugene CC, Eugene, OR)
May 6-8: at NCAA Regional Championship (TBA, Campus Sites)
May 18-21: at NCAA Championship (CC of Landfall, Wilmington, NC)