May 12, 2010

By Carl Kotala
Special to
Talk about a 1-2 punch.
After two days at the NCAA Division III women’s golf national championships, Natalie Matuszak of St. Mary’s College (Notre Dame, Ind.) is in first place overall with a two-day total of 155 (+9).
Her teammate, Mary Kate Boyce, is one shot back in a three-way tie for second place with Paige Caldwell and Alana Swain, both from Methodist University (Fayetteville, NC).
“When we were doing our practice rounds, I was a little nervous because there’s some really tough holes -- 15, 16 and 17,” Matuszak said. “They made me a little nervous. I’ve just been trying to play smart and not exactly go for birdies, but try to go for pars instead.
“… I’m really happy with where I am. I didn’t really expect to do this well, but of course, I went in wanting to do well, and wanting to do well for our team. I think our whole team is happy with where we are right now.”
The Belles head into Thursday’s action in fourth place, 16 shots behind Methodist at the Mission Inn Resort. The event is being co-hosted by Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, Ga.) and the Central Florida Sports Commission.
Boyce, a junior who is the fifth woman in her family to attend St. Mary’s, shot a 77 on Wednesday. That tied her with Methodist’s Swain, Catherine Wagner of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Elizabeth DeRoy of Otterbein College (Westerville, Ohio) for the low score of the day.
Shooting par over her last nine holes, Boyce said she knew it was a good day when she was able to save par on No. 4.
“I had made three up-and-downs in a row and I had a long putt (about 15 feet) to get up and down and I made it,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
For the past two weeks, Boyce said, the Belles have been working on bringing the right mentality to the tournament. The experience of playing in last year’s national championship has also been a big help.
“Last year, you walk up to the tee and you’re like, ‘I should not be here,’” Boyce said. “But (now) you walk up and you’re less nervous. You feel a little more comfortable. We’ll try to get a good night’s sleep and see what we can do.”
The idea of having to play the 17th hole may not be keeping Matuszak up at night, but it certainly made her nervous when the tournament began.
“It’s a par 5 and there’s a tree in the middle of the fairway, so you have to place your second shot really well,” she said. “Then, you have to hit over water to get to the green and the green is really sloped toward the water, so the putt is kind of fast if you’re behind the hole.”
Given that Matuszak birdied the hole on Tuesday and shot par on Wednesday, it seems like she’s been taking the right approach to 17 … and many other holes for that matter. The sophomore said her short game has been coming up big for her, particularly when she’s been able to land her chip shots close to the hole to help her get up and down.
Is she surprised to be in first place halfway through the national championship?
“Yeah, a little bit …” she laughed. “I’ve been working on it for a long time, though. I’ve been playing golf for a long time. I think it’s time that I start shooting consistently in the 70s and start seeing myself at the top of the leader board.”
Boyce said she’s confident and excited to be in the hunt after two days and noted that no matter what happens, she and Matuszak will be rooting for each other.
After all, they’re not just teammates … they’re a dynamic duo.
“Apparently so,” Boyce laughed. “Hopefully, the rest of the guys can step up the next two days and we’ll have a dynamic team. Natalie has played awesome. She’s played lights out. Hopefully she can keep it up.”