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Denise Maloof | | May 20, 2014

Maloof: Arizona State and the field contend with brutal winds

  Arizona State battled difficult conditions as they finished the first day of play tied for third.

TULSA, Okla. -- For most of the field, the biggest foe faced during Tuesday’s opening round of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship had nothing to do with shot choices or nerves.

“Can someone turn off the fan?” Arizona State head coach Melissa Luellen exclaimed as she hugged ULCA head coach Carrie Forsyth, post-round, in the media workroom at Tulsa Country Club. 

A 1988 University of Tulsa graduate and former Division I golf standout, Luellen estimated she’s played the host site hundreds of times, in all kinds of conditions. But ASU senior Laura Blanco still piped up in disbelief during one point of Tuesday’s first round.

“Laura asked me, ‘Did you really play in this stuff?’” Luellen said. “And I said, ‘well, it’s a little high today.’”

Tuesday’s weather forecast promised sunny warmth and wind-tunnel conditions. It delivered, with steady breezes averaging 20-30 miles per hour and gusts to 40 miles per hour.

“It’s just a battle,” Forsyth said. “When it’s blowing this hard, it’s difficult to club. There’s a lot of uncertainty and you have to be really committed to targets, and have to be committed to yardages, really try to stay focused and calm, and accept that you’re going to have to get up and down, and you’re going to have to fight — for shots and pars and birdies. I’m really proud of our girls today.”

Amid the gale, seventh-ranked Oklahoma muscled to a first-round lead, shooting a collective 8-over-par 288. Second-ranked UCLA sat second, with an 11-over-par 291. Three teams tied for third — third-ranked Duke, defending champion and top-ranked Southern California and fifth-ranked ASU — all at 13-over-par 293.

The home-state Sooners ask, why the fuss?

“For us it was good — kind of a usual day,” Oklahoma head coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell said. “It was definitely gusty We’re used it a little bit — it was fun.”

“This is the result of the wind,” Stanford’s Lauren Kim said, pointing to the hairball knotted with rubber band behind her baseball cap. “I normally have my hair in a ponytail, but when the wind blows, it’s so long that it blows everywhere. So I just put it up and deal with it that way.”

Kim dealt well with the wind as a shot-maker. The Stanford sophomore ended Tuesday tied with USC junior Doris Chen and Denver senior Tonje Daffinrud atop the individual leaderboard. All three managed a 3-under-par 67 despite the trying conditions.

“Really tough and I think it made the course a lot harder,” Daffinrud, a Norwegian native savvy to Rocky Mountain weather vagaries, said. “I just had a good day today so I think that was it. But I also tend to play well in hard conditions because I know that the field is going to get those same shots.”

Chen admitted Tuesday’s storm-like winds weren’t the worst she’s faced on a golf course. Those came during a past tournament in Taiwan, amid what locals call a “Samurai wind.”

“It would blow a different wind from the tee box into the hole,” she said. “And there would be some shots you literally would have to aim like 50 yards left or right. I thought that was really bizarre. Other than than that, this is really difficult, too.”

Forsyth said Tuesday’s wind wasn’t unfamiliar to her Bruins. One of UCLA’s home courses is located in an area of California windier than other courses the team uses, and they do have experience with seasonal Santa Ana winds, which blow fierce from the east.

“It’s a unusual for it to be as high as it is today,” Forsyth said. “But at the end of the day, we work on knock-downs and punch shots. Even then there’s a X factor in a wind like today. We’re just not sure how much the wind is going to be a factor. So learning to control your trajectory is key, and recognizing that the wind does affect putts when it’s blowing like this and learn to feel how much.”

Tuesday’s conditions could have been more uncomfortable. Luellen cited the cold in Cle Elum, Washington, where the Sun Devils finished third in last week’s West Regional, won by USC.

“We’re just happy it’s not 48 degrees outs out here,” Luellen said. “That’s what we came from, so we’re just happy we’re in shorts and short-sleeved shirts.”

There were no reports of lost equipment, clothing or club covers, although Kim said she and her Stanford teammates chased their hats during Monday’s practice round.

“Actually, on one of trees out here, one of my teammates, [freshman] Casey [Danielson] and I, were standing on the tee box,” Kim said of a Tuesday memory. “And there’s a big pine tree, and the wind blew, and all the pine needles were  pricking us in the back of our legs, so that was definitely interesting. But it’s been fine.”

The Bruins are minus a golf umbrella after winning last week’s Central Regional in nearby and similarly windy, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“We had an umbrella sink in the lake at Stillwater,” Forsyth said. “Hopefully that hasn’t happened here yet, but yeah, that was funny. It just took off and — boom — went into the lake and to the bottom. Brand-new.”

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