May 14, 2010

By Tom Carkeek, Special to

MESA, Ariz. -- Through the miracle of modern technology, the family of Maria Luz Besio has been watching from half a world away as she competes in the NCAA Division II Women's Golf Championships at Longbow Golf Club.

"Her family back in Argentina just keeps hitting 'refresh' on the computer following her," said Lauren Ressler, who coaches Besio at Newberry (S.C.) College.

And while Besio has been making it worthwhile for her family to point and click, the urgent message flashing to her competitors is: Access denied.

The sophomore closed Friday's third round with a flourish, ringing up four straight birdies to conclude a 2-under-par 69 and stretch her lead to four strokes over Sandra Changkija of Nova Southeastern (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla.).

Besio is at 5-under 208, breaking the three-round record for best score in relation to par.

After bogeys at Nos. 5 and 11 and a birdie at No. 6 left Besio 1 over for the day, the moment of truth came at the par-4, 389-yard 14th.

"I hit a good drive," Besio said. "But it landed in a divot on the fairway."

She had trouble with the bad lie and left her second shot 70 yards short of the green. Her approach landed on the putting surface, and two putts later, she had a frustrating bogey. But if you thought that would rankle Besio, think again.

"I'm very calm during my rounds," she said. "I don't get annoyed. I just go with my regular routine."

That routine paid off with the ultimate turnaround - four consecutive birdies.

Here's how it broke down:
- On the 495-yard, par-5 15th hole, Besio got on in three and drilled an 8-foot right-to-left putt;
- On the 165-yard, par-3 16th, she curled in a 25-footer that circled from left to right and into the cup;
- On the 338-yard, par-4 17th, she struck a wedge to within 5 feet and ran in the straight-on putt; and
- On the 492-yard, par-5 18th, she landed her approach 15 feet past the hole on the back fringe but came back to snare the birdie.

Besides an immense amount of talent, Besio's demeanor is what sets her apart.

"She's the same whether she's shooting 80 or she's under par," Ressler said. "She's just so even-keeled. It helps her bounce back from anything bad, like what happened out at 14."

The Division II tournament record of 1-under par, set two years ago by Joanna Coe of Rollins (Winter Park, Fla.), is well within Besio's reach. But, said Besio: "I'm not thinking about tomorrow. I'm not worried about what's going to happen next."

What has a good chance to happen next is that Besio will be crowned national champion. She's likely to have that in common with Nova Southeastern's Sharks.

Building on a 29-stroke lead to start the day, Nova Southeastern lengthened its oh-so-comfortable margin to 35 shots over Rollins in the team competition.

With just 18 holes separating them from their second consecutive national championship, the Sharks' four scorers are all among the top 10 in the tournament.

"We're one round closer," said coach Kevin Marsh. "We got off to such a bad start today. We just came out flat. "But in a way I think it helped us because it got their attention. Then the second nine we probably played as well as we have all tournament."

Marsh expects no distractions as several of his players also cast their eyes at the individual championship.

"Actually, I think it well help," he said. "All five of them have individual goals. They all have something to shoot for."

Should the earth remain on its axis and Nova Southeastern go on to win the championship, that would make the Sunshine State Conference a perfect 11-for-11 since the D II women's tournament was inaugurated in 2000.

Despite the Sharks' dominance, don't expect them to set a record for margin of victory. Florida Southern's 74-stroke gap over Barry University in 2002 seems likely to stand at least until ... oh, probably forever.