May 15, 2010

By Tom Carkeek, Special to

MESA, Ariz. -- Golf was meant to be played on grass. Maria Luz Besio learned that painful lesson Saturday at the NCAA Division II Women's Golf Championships.

After leading through the first three rounds at Longbow Golf Club, the Newberry (S.C.) sophomore star closed with an 11-over 82, cartwheeling into second place at 6-over 290. That was six strokes behind Sandra Changkija of Nova Southeastern (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.), which also won the team championship.

Besio placed a premium on accuracy for three days but spent much of the front nine Saturday trying to extricate herself from sand traps and what is known locally as "transition areas" (meaning cactus, gravel, rocks, low-lying bushes and other nasty stuff).

Almost unbelievably for a player of her caliber, she was 14 over through 12 holes but finished brilliantly, with three birdies on her final six holes.

"I think I felt like I had nothing to lose the first three days," said Besio, of Buenos Aires, Argentina. "Then coming out as the leader on the last day was different.

"But after the first nine was so bad, I think I just felt like I had nothing to lose again."

It says something about the excellence of Besio's first three rounds that she could score so poorly on the last day and still be the runner-up.

Besio appeared en route to a tournament record when she completed three rounds in 5-under-par and led Changkija by four strokes. But her dream of a championship disintegrated quickly as she made the turn in 11-over and fell far back.

It's a bad sign when none of your first four shots land on something green, but that's what befell Besio out of the chute. She hooked her first drive into a desert wash, pushed her next shot farther along but still in the hazard, then found a greenside trap and blasted out onto gravel before chipping short of the green. She scrambled to her first double bogey of the tournament and never recovered.

Besio's second shot on No. 6 landed in a trap adjacent to the green, but she needed four shots to exit. Her quadruple-bogey 8 pushed her into unfamiliar territory: over par for the tournament.

Besio's drive at No. 8 bounded down a cart path and settled in a bush about a foot above ground. She elected to take the penalty, returned to the tee and absorbed another double bogey.

She had carded only seven bogeys through her first three rounds, but Saturday's front nine included three bogeys, two doubles and a quad.

She then doubled No. 10 and bogeyed No. 12 before finding her range down the stretch.

She birdied Nos. 13, 16 and 18, then embraced coach Lauren Ressler on the green.

"I still have two years left," Besio said. "Hopefully we can come back next year with the whole team. That would be more fun."

EX-CHAMPS: Joanna Coe of Rollins (Winter Park, Fla.) won the national championship in 2008, tied for ninth last year and was right in the hunt this year.

Coe finished third at 11-over-par. Her up-and-down final round of 3-over 74 featured four birdies, three bogeys and two double bogeys.

Lyndsay McBride of Indianapolis, who won last year, tied for 18th this time around. She was at plus-24.

THE ONES AND ONLY: Dianne Luke of California (Pa.) shot 70 on Saturday, the only subpar round of the day. She finished 12th overall.

Silvie Dittertova of Florida Southern (Lakeland, Fla.) notched Saturday's lone eagle when she posted a 3 on the par-5 18th. She tied for 16th.

ROOKIES: Cal State Monterey Bay's seventh-place finish might not be groundbreaking news. But the Otters, out of Seaside, Calif., became the first athletic team in school history to compete in a national championship.

"It's really a big deal back on campus," coach Teri Greene said. "We have 13 sports and we've had a golf program for seven years, so it's a nice achievement."

Led by Cicilia Chudivan's tie for 11th place, the Otters put up an effort that Greene called "so impressive. We came here with not a lot of expectations, but we're so happy.

"We're fortunate to have a beautiful home course. That helps attract good players."

Greene's plans are clear: "We're going to come back next year - and stronger."

NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN: Rollins finished second in its eighth consecutive trip to the nationals. The Tars have been third or better in each of their 11 visits.

SUNSHINY STATE: Nova Southeastern's team victory means that the powerful Sunshine State Conference has won the title every year since the Division II tournament has been contested. The event was inaugurated in 2000.