1996-97 Season in Review

A wise adage proclaims that teams are doubly improved when outlasting their troubles and then battling to reach their goals. Last season, the UCLA women's golf team experienced adversity through the first half of its season before fighting proudly through the second half and capturing fifth place at the 1997 NCAA Championships.

The program that finished fourth nationally at the 1996 NCAAs, had fell to 25th in the nation eight months later. The Bruins placed eighth in the Rolex Match Play Championships. The following week they finished 12th at the Golf World Invitational.

The Bruins were boosted by the arrival of Sophie Sandolo, an internationally seasoned player, who had helped the Italian National Team to a second place finish at the Women's World Amateur in Korea. She enrolled at UCLA in January, finished tied for fourth in her first collegiate tournament in February, and by May had earned 2nd Team All-American honors.

The roller coaster journey from peak to valley to respectability in 1996-97 began with a second place finish at the Topy Cup in Japan. Veteran Amandine Vincent tied for fifth with newcomer Alexandra Gasser and, for the short term, prospects looked solid for a promising season.

At the Rolex Fall Preview, the Bruins fell to 12th against a 21-team nationally ranked field. Individually, Vincent tied for 17th place, a solid finish after a first round 84.

A third place team finish at the Stanford Intercollegiates and seventh place finishes by Eunice Choi and Vincent lifted hopes. Choi's final round 71 was a season best.

The Bruins bottomed out at the Rolex Match Play Championships and the Golf World Invitational. To their credit, they did not field their best team at Palmetto Dunes because Vincent and Gasser competed in the Women's World Amateur. Considering the Bruins' lack of depth, prospects were dim that the program would continue its string of top 10 NCAA finishes.

Sandolo burst onto the collegiate scene by tying for fourth, tying for third and placing fifth at the Regional Challenge, Bruin Pioneer Classic and San Jose State Invitational, respectively.

The Bruins, respectively, finished second, and third twice at those events. In fact, they never finished out of the top 10 in their seven remaining spring tournaments.

Combined with Vincent, who posted four top 20 finishes in her last seven events, and Choi, who dropped her stroke average from 77.9 in the first five tournaments of the season to 76.3 in the second half, plus Gasser and Jeong Min Park, the Bruins fielded a lineup of contenders.

Possibly their most courageous effort proved to be the 1997 NCAAs. Returning to a course where they had finished 12th against a national field in the fall, but comforted by the knowledge that the 1991 squad had won its national championship at the same Ohio State Scarlet Course, the Bruins hoped to put the finishing touches on their season.

UCLA found itself in fourth place after 36 holes, trailing top ranked Arizona, San Jose State and ASU. The 297 team score they compiled in the second round was one of their bests of the season. A 301 in the third round dropped them back to fifth place. In the fourth round, they shot 293, their second best score of the season, and their 72-hole total was just two shots shy of third place.

Sandolo's final round three-under par 69 was a collegiate best that vaulted her into a tie for 11th place. Choi, in her final collegiate event, carded a steady 296 tied for 16th place. Despite struggling most of the season, Gasser's play over the final 54 holes (she fired rounds of 72-76-73 after a first round 80) proved that she could elevate her game following a slow start. Vincent played the last 36 holes in four-over par.

Most importantly, the Bruins continued an impressive NCAA Tournament streak: eight consecutive top 10 finishes.