USC women’s golf team aces West Coast tournaments, looks ahead with confidence

Kalen Anderson set up the 2023-24 schedule for her South Carolina women’s golf team as always — tough competition with preparation for the postseason tournaments in mind — and that philosophy meant a trip to the West Coast to open the spring season.

“To get used to the travel and to different grasses,” she said in looking ahead to the NCAA championship, which moves to Carlsbad, California this May.

Mission accomplished.

The Gamecocks, who have flipped between fifth and sixth in the new analytic-based national poll, got the feel of the different grasses in the best possible way, by winning both tournaments.

“Good vibes, good feelings, a lot of confidence,” said Anderson, who’s teams have won 26 tournaments in her 17 seasons. “They did a great job of being accountable with both their golf and their academic work.”

With heavy storms in the weather forecast, tournament officials changed the format in the Threse Hession Regional Team Challenge to match play. The Gamecocks responded with three victories, two over top-10 teams.

A week later, Carolina surged from behind in the final round to win the San Diego State Classic.

“The courses were different and both were extremely challenging,” Anderson said. “In the match play, beating three very strong teams (Arizona, Oregon and Wake Forest) that we might play later (in the nationals) gave us both experience and confidence.”

Juniors Louise Rydqvist and Hannah Darling, both All-Americans who will compete in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, provide strength at the top of the lineup. Senior Sophia Burnett, a transfer from Furman and two-time South Carolina Amateur champion, made her first appearances for the Gamecocks and earned the coach’s praise.

“Sophia has been really strong in qualifying, and having the players push each other makes us better,” Anderson said. “Sophia won her match against Wake Forest and played solid at San Diego.”

Rydqvist and Darling compiled 3-0 match-play records. Freshman Vairana Heck went 2-1, and Burnet and Mia Sandtorv Lussand had 1-2 marks. Playing as an individual, freshman Maylis Lamoure had a 2-1 record in matches against the other individual competitors.

Individually in the stroke-play San Diego tourney, Rydqvist finished fourth, Lussand and Heck tied for 10th, Darling shared 13th and Burnett placed 32nd.

After week off from competition, the Gamecocks play host to the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island — one of the most prestigious events in women’s college golf — beginning March 4.

Remember Anderson’s desire for tough competition? The Gamecocks get that at Long Cove. The 17-team field includes six of the top 10, 11 of the top 25 and 16 of the top 50. The tournament again will be televised by the Golf Channel from 2:30-5:30 p.m. each day.

“It’s an invitational and the committee picks the teams, and we have a waiting list of teams that want to play,” she said. “Long Cove is a phenomenal course, then you have the community involvement, Darius, Hilton Head, the beach. ... It’s a wonderful experience.”

The Gamecocks will wrap up the regular season March 16-17 in the Valspar Augusta Invitational and the Old Barnwell Match Play in Aiken March 25-26 before the SEC Championship tournament begins April 12. The NCAA Regionals will be played May 6-8 and the NCAA Championship starts May 17.

“So far, so good,” said Anderson, whose squad has won three tournaments this season. “We have things to improve on, but overall, I like where we are.”

Chip shots. Her performance in the Threse Hession Regional Team Challenge earned USC’s Darling a sponsor’s exemption into the LPGA’s Fir Hills Seri Pak Championship March 21-24 in California. ... PGA of America professional Cary Corbitt, a fixture at Hilton Head’s Sea Pines Resort for 46 years, has been inducted into the Carolinas PGA Section’s Hall of Fame. ... Jonathan Nielson took seventh place individually in leading Clemson’s men to a sixth-place finish in the Watersound Invitational in Panama City, Florida. ... Led by Annabelle Pancake’s 69, Clemson’s women used a strong final round to climb three places to finish ninth in the Moon Golf Invitational in Melbourne, Florida. ... A full field of 100 two-player teams will open the SCGA’s major tournament season in the organization’s Partners Championship, set for March 2-3 at Spring Valley CC and the WildeWood Club.