By Hayden Cox, Contributor
The women’s golf team are on their way to another historic season after winning their season opener at the Minnesota Invitational. There, they defeated top teams like Texas, Purdue and Minnesota and are now ranked number 20 in the country, which makes the Furman golf team the top ranked team from a non-power 5 conference.
Sophomore Haylee Harford led the team at the invitational coming home with her first individual title. Other top players included junior Alice Chen who tied 5-3 strokes off Harford’s lead and senior Taylor Totland, who finished 17.
In the tournament each athlete played three rounds over two days, adding up to 54 holes in total: 36 on day one and 18 on day two.
“The physical and mental aspects are very draining. We can be out there competing for ten hours at a time on a 36-hole day,” Chen said.
On 36 hole days, the team wakes up at 5 a.m. and is out of the hotel an hour later. They play nearly all day, carrying their bags up to eight miles on a hilly golf course.
As Assistant Coach DeMarco reports, “Golf can be a marathon both physically and mentally. It is more athletic than people think. Our training includes cardio, interval training and weights to prepare our athletes for tournaments.”
Over the last few years, the Paladins have humbly turned their program into one of the best in the country. Alongside other top Furman teams such as women’s and men’s soccer and women’s and men’s cross country, women’s golf has begun to grow out of the SoCon and gain recognition nationwide. For these teams, winning the Southern Conference title is no longer a goal, but an expectation.
Last year the Paladins finished ranked no. 20 at the NCAA National Championships led by Totland. Due to her outstanding season, Totland was named the MVP of Furman’s team alongside Chen. This year, both top players return alongside senior Macy McRaney, juniors Jacqueline Bendrick and Reona Hirai, sophomore Haylee Harford and three freshman talents in Carly Burkhardt, Marra Burton and Natalie Srinivasan.
While the team has shot up the rankings in recent years, Laura DeMarco, a 2015 Furman alumnus as well as a coach, reflects on the last five years. When she was recruited, the Paladins were ranked outside the top 100, and the atmosphere was “not great.”
Due to coaching and culture changes, the program has grown immensely.
“When we go to a tournament now we expect to win,” DeMarco said. “We’re a very serious team, but we also have a lot of fun.”
She laughed as she glances at the giant empty box of cookie cake that the Paladins devoured after returning from their victory.
The team finished second in the Lady Paladin Invitational falling two strokes short of Texas.
Despite finishing at no. 20 in the nation last season, the Paladins believe that they can build on that momentum and have an even better finish this season.
“The primary focus is to get into match play at Nationals this fall,” DeMarco said. This would put the Paladins among the top eight teams in the nation.