FRANKLIN, Tenn. – The University of Arkansas women’s golf team takes the next step toward a national title teeing it up for first round action at the 2012 NCAA Championship in Franklin, Tenn., Tuesday.
The Razorbacks, ranked No. 43 heading into play, tee off at 8:39 a.m. from the 10th tee. Arkansas plays with Michigan State and Oklahoma for the first two rounds.
“My goal as a coach is to build all year from the fall to the spring and peak at the right time and we are doing just that,” said head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor. “We’re excited to get started and have a chance to win a national championship.”
The Razorbacks were an underdog at the NCAA Central Regional last week, heading into competition as a 12th-seed. Arkansas dug themselves a hole in the first round and needed to move up four spots to qualify to play this week.
They did just that, finishing eighth by one stroke to earn a place at the NCAA Championship this week.
“For us to throw out a 76 (at regionals) is exactly what we need to do to be successful,” Estes-Taylor said. “It was a crazy week but I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
While NCAA Regionals was tough, this week’s field at the NCAA Championship will push Arkansas even more. Top-ranked UCLA are a solid favorite to become the first team to win consecutive titles since Duke earned back-to-back crowns in 2006-07.
Another traditional power from the West Coast, Southern California, and three ranked teams from the Southeastern Conference - Alabama, LSU and championship host Vanderbilt - are among the squads expected to give the Bruins their stiffest competition. Perennial contenders North Carolina, Duke and Arizona State also have the talent to mount a title bid. The Bruins' path to consecutive titles was made easier when two powerful conference champions failed to advance: California from the Pac-12 and Auburn from the SEC.
The entire field includes No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Southern California, No. 5 Arizona State, No. 6 LSU, No. 7 North Carolina, No. 8 Vanderbilt, No. 10 Texas A&M, No. 11 Duke, No. 12 Colorado, No. 13 Florida, No. 17 Baylor, No. 18 South Carolina, No. 19 Pepperdine, No. 21 Michigan State, No. 22 Texas, No. 28 Oklahoma, No. 29 Purdue, No. 14 Tennessee, No. 16 Ohio State, No. 23 North Carolina State, No. 30 Stanford, No. 33 Arkansas and Virginia.
“We know we can play with the best teams in the country and this is our chance to prove that,” Estes-Taylor said. “If we can play 72 solid holes of golf, we’ll be right where we want to be in the end, I believe that we do something special this week. We have come so far since the first tournament and that experience is so valuable heading into this week.”
The 24-team field begins the four-day tournament Tuesday with play continuing through Friday. Teams alternate tee times and starting holes (No. 1 or No. 10) in the first two rounds and the entire field is repaired for the final rounds.
This is the Razorbacks fifth trip to the NCAA Championship and Estes-Taylor would love to improve on last year’s tie for fifth place at the Texas A&M-hosted event.