Davis overcomes nerves to give Mary-Hardin Baylor first-round lead
DESTIN, Fla. -- Mary Hardin-Baylor freshman Elizabeth Davis was so nervous on her first drive Tuesday that she nearly sought a trash can instead of focusing on her shot.
Playing in one’s first national championship will jangle nerves, but Davis rallied with a team-best 75 in Tuesday’s first championship round at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, helping power Mary Hardin-Baylor atop the early standings.
The No. 2-ranked Crusaders’ team score of 306 gives them a three-shot lead on second-place UT-Tyler (309) heading to Wednesday’s second round. Reigning national champion Methodist is third at 318.
Davis’ opening-round 75 places her sixth in individual competition.
“[I was] beyond nervous,” Davis said. “I’ve never played in this type of tournament. First tee, I almost threw up on the first tee. Made it through the first tee and 17 holes later, still nervous.”
She did so with a left knee still sore from arthroscopic surgery in February. Davis injured the knee while doing squats during a workout and now part of her post-round routine is a giant ice bag. She finally chowed down, too, on a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and protein bars.
“We played well [on Tuesday],” Mary-Hardin Baylor coach Darla Kirby said. “We had a lot of nerves early. Elizabeth Davis, who posted the low round for us, really was so nervous until about hole 12 and calmed down a little bit -- had an eagle on 15. She actually played the back nine even par to shoot that 75. The other girls, we had some up and downs, but finished strong. And I’m proud of them and their effort.”
Unseating the perennial Division III champions -- the Methodist Monarchs, who have won every title since 1997 -- won’t be easy. But, why not the Cru, as they’re known in Mary Hardin-Baylor parlance?
“It’s anyone’s tournament,” Davis said. “That’s what we came in with the mindset. We just need to play our game and play for each other.”
Mary Hardin-Baylor beat Methodist head-to-head earlier this season in the 21-team Jekyll Island Invitational in mid-March. The Cru won that tournament, with Methodist finishing second by six shots and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps finishing third.
The Cru also won their 10th American Southwest Conference championship several weeks ago. They are no strangers to NCAA competition, with nine tournament appearances and two runner-up finishes (2002 and ’05).
“We’ve competed head-to-head for a while now, these three teams,” Kirby said of Methodist and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. “And we know what they’re very capable of. Methodist is not defending champion for no reason. They’ve got a lot of talent and they could come back and shoot a very low score [Wednesday].”
Kirby is making a comeback herself, albeit unexpectedly. Promoted to associate athletic director last summer, she relinquished her slot as Mary Hardin-Baylor’s head women’s golf coach after 16 seasons. When her successor resigned last fall to return to North Carolina with her husband, Kirby was back in the coaching saddle.
“I recruited all these kids and had a relationship with them so we just felt like it would be the easiest transition,” Kirby said. “So they had a great fall and they continued in the spring.”
Another job also fell by the wayside, that of the chair of the current DIII Women’s Golf Committee. That was to be Kirby’s only NCAA tournament participation, but once she returned to coaching, other committee members pitched in. Washington (Mo.) associate athletic director Joe Worlund is standing in for her.
“I was going to be here anyway, but I’m really enjoying this role instead of the committee right now,” Kirby said, adding that last summer’s promotion, though very good, happened suddenly, and this week’s tournament gives her a true swan song.
She hopes to be reviewing possible successors’ resumes next week.
“Now I’ve had the chance to acknowledge that this is the last semester for me,” she said. “I’ve been so blessed to coach there. It’s just a great institution, great bunch of girls.”
Davis, who is playing for Kirby for the first time, appreciates the opportunity.
“It’s like having a new coach, but she’s been doing great,” Davis said of Kirby. “She was great [Tuesday] -- definitely pumped me up on the last few holes I had. So I think we all enjoy it.”