For the No. 2 USC women’s golf team, this season is all about redemption.
After falling just short of their goal of a national championship last season, the Women of Troy seek to reclaim the title that eluded them last year.
“We look forward to getting back that national championship in the spring,” said junior Lizette Salas, a first team All-American last season.
After winning the 2008 NCAA title, the team led the 2009 National Championship going into the final round only to finish third, nine strokes back of Arizona State. For then-freshman Jennifer Song, the heartbreak was doubled by her second-place finish after leading on the final day. Song led by two strokes heading into the final round, only to see it slip away on the final hole to finish one stroke behind Purdue’s Maria Hernandez.
This year, the team is determined to get back to the top. The Women of Troy return their top six golfers from last season, including everyone that traveled to the National Championship. Led by an All-American trio — Song, Salas and senior Belen Mozo — the team’s expectations are nothing short of another NCAA title.
Song, now a sophomore, returns to attempt to top a phenomenal season that culminated in her breaking the school single-season scoring record. She finished the season as the top female collegiate golfer in the country, with nine top-10 finishes during the season and a scoring average of .18 strokes below par. After the season, she was named a First Team All-American and the NCGA Freshman of the Year.
Instead of using the summer to rest, Song continued her torrid pace and became just the second woman to win two USGA titles in one year. After winning the US Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship by the largest margin in tournament history, she went on to win the US Women’s Amateur Championship. In between, she finished 13th at the US Women’s Open Championship — the top finish by an amateur.
Now that she’s back in school, Song isn’t planning on slowing down.
“It definitely gave me a lot of confidence, and going into the season I’m full of energy and really excited,” Song said.
Still, she doesn’t dwell on last season’s success, saying, “I just try to hit one shot at a time.”
Salas, now a two-time All-American, finished last season ranked fourth in the nation. Her nine top-10 finishes, which included two victories, earned her the Pac-10 Women’s Golfer of the Year award. Salas also broke the school’s scoring record last season, with an average of only .09 strokes over par. Salas, however, isn’t satisfied with last season’s finish.
“I kind of struggled towards the end of last year,” she said, referring to her 18th-place finishes at the NCAA West Regional Tournament and the National Championship.
Over the summer, Salas also struggled with a back injury at the end of last season. Though her competitive schedule was limited, she competed in the US Women’s Amateur and the US Women’s Public Links this summer. After making it to the round of 16 in the Public Links, she fell in the second round of the US Amateur to the eventual champion: Song.
“I learned a lot this summer and I’m just now getting healthy and back into competitive golf,” Salas said. “I’m just going to keep getting stronger and come back better this year.”
Mozo seeks to become the first ever four-time All-American for the Trojans this season after being named a Second Team All-American last year. While struggling with a shoulder injury last season, Mozo’s game was inconsistent. She earned three top-10 finishes and set a personal record with a 65 at the 2009 UCF Challenge, besting her previous low score by three strokes. Her 65 tied with Song for the lowest round on the team last season and marked the third-lowest score of any golfer in the country.
Mozo underwent shoulder surgery over the summer and is just beginning to recover.
“She’s starting to swing now, but we don’t have her swinging drivers yet,” USC coach Andrea Gaston said. “We’ll see if she can come back for any of our October tournaments, but we don’t want to rush anything.”
Also returning is 2008 All-American Stefanie Endstrasser. The senior struggled with her game last season, but showed flashes of brilliance in her third place finish at the 2008 Mason Rudolph Championship.
“Stephanie hasn’t been up to form, but she’s been working really hard,” Gaston said. “She played a few events over the summer while attending summer school in Europe.”
The team is also looking for continuing contributions from senior Caroline Kim and sophomore Inah Park. Both became regular contributors for the Women of Troy last season, but they’ll be challenged for their roster spots by Endstrasser and incoming freshman Cyna Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, a native of the Philippines, recently attended the prestigious David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Florida to prepare for collegiate competition. Her victories on the amateur circuit make her an instant contender for a roster spot.
The road to redemption for the Women of Troy begins this Friday at the Mason Rudolph Championship at the Legends Golf Club in Nashville, Tenn. Gaston sees the fall season as a time for “everyone to get the competitive experience so we can have more depth and count on every player.”