AJ Newell's leadership key to the success of Tennessee
The ideal Tennessee women's golfer doesn't exist solely in Judi Pavon's imagination.
The Lady Vols coach was sitting in her office Monday afternoon at the Mack and Jonnie Day practice facility and in walked AJ Newell. She fits Pavon's image perfectly.
"She's made everyone understand, it should be a big commitment to be here and play well," Pavon said. "She's really helped set the tone. Everyone who's playing for us is following in those footsteps and that's made us a better team."
Tennessee is a No. 4 seed and will play in the NCAA regional in San Antonio, which begins Thursday at the Briggs Ranch Golf Club. The top six teams and top three individuals advance to the NCAA championships May 22-27 in Bradenton, Florida.The Lady Vols were fourth last month at the SEC championships in Hoover, Alabama, their best finish in the event since placing fourth in 2009. Sophomore Lucia Polo tied her career low for 54 holes at 214 and finished tied for seventh. Newell's sister, Anna, shot a 215 and finished tied for 10th. Both golfers were named All-SEC second team last week and Anna was named to the all-freshman team.
During her final year, AJ Newell's commitment to her sport and school has involved handling less-than-ideal circumstances. She's had two consecutive performances that haven't been up to her senior standards. She shot an opening-round 80 at the SEC tournament and finished tied for 50th. In February, she scored her first career victory in winning the Westbrook Spring Invite in Peoria, Arizona. Her first-round score of 69 matched the ninth best in program history.
"The road to being successful is not always straight up," she said. "I had some good tournaments at the beginning of the spring. Maybe the last two weren't exactly what I wanted but I learn something every day that I play."
The lessons lately have involved her view of golf as being "a very humbling sport."
Newell's perception of Tennessee, on the other hand, likely began with her parents, who both were UT graduates.
"I feel very lucky that Judi gave me the opportunity to come here and be a Lady Volunteer and be on the golf team," she said. "It's something I'm going to remember the rest of my life. It's been a really special experience."
Newell's experience was rocked last November when the university announced that all women's teams except basketball effective July 1 will be known as "Volunteers" and will wear the Power T logo, falling in step with the men's teams.
Newell and her sister both submitted letters in January to the website bringbacktheladyvols.com, expressing their displeasure with the decision. Newell indicated that Lady Vols athletes were neither consulted nor prepared and described the announcement as "a dim spot in my otherwise fantastic senior year."
"Everyone has their different opinions," she said on Monday. "I felt like it was something I needed to say. I have a lot of pride in the University of Tennessee. I hope the best for everyone going forward."
They have her lead to follow.
This article was written by Dan Fleser from Knoxville News Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.