Women’s golf takes to the road for Mason Rudolph Championship

The No. 1 USC women’s golf team travels to Franklin, Tenn., to defend its title at the Mason Rudolph Championship this weekend.

The Women of Troy won last year’s tournament, held at the Legends Golf Club, by two strokes, and set a tournament record in the first round with a score of ten-under par 278.

“Obviously it would be nice to make a run to defend our title,” coach Andrea Gaston said. “I think it’s just a matter of getting off to a good start and staying in there.”

Last year, however, the Women of Troy were led by tournament winner Jennifer Song, who left the school after last season and recently earned her LPGA tour card for next season. Song opened the last tournament with a six-under 66, and, as Gaston acknowledged, “it would certainly help to have a few low rounds to start us off.”

Leading the team this week is three-time All-American senior Lizette Salas, who is fresh off a third-place finish at the NCAA Fall Preview. Salas has never finished lower than 25th at the Mason Rudolph, highlighted by a tenth place finish in 2009. Salas, the only senior on the six-person team, is responsible for filling the void left by Song and three-time All-American Belen Mozo. Assisting Salas in leading the young team is junior transfer Lisa McCloskey, a two-time All-American. McCloskey finished fourth at the Fall Preview in her USC debut. She and Salas were both named to Golf World’s “Top Ten Women’s Golf Collegiate Players to Watch” list before the season.

Also returning for the Women of Troy is junior Inah Park, who will be making her season debut this weekend. Park was a member of last season’s NCAA runner-up team, and looks to be a key part of the team’s run for another title. She finished 30th at the Mason Rudolph last year. Sophomore Cyna Rodriguez, the only other remaining member of last season’s team, tied for 30th at the Fall Preview. She dropped out of the top 20 after an uncharacteristic final round 80, and looks to rebound this week. Rounding out the roster is freshman Rachel Morris, who finished 18th at the Fall Preview in her USC debut.

In addition to winning last year’s tournament, the Women of Troy finished second in the 2009 Mason Rudolph. A history of success at this juncture is very important to the team, which will be hosting the 2011 Fall Preview and 2012 NCAA Championship next season.

“A lot of teams wanted to get in there this year,” Gaston said.

For this week, the team is concentrating on playing a course that has survived a brutal summer. The floods in Tennessee and the natural Southern heat and humidity have left the course a little beaten up. That said, “Everyone is playing under the same conditions, so you have to have a good attitude about it,” Gaston said.

The tournament runs Friday through Sunday.