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Dean Holzwarth | | May 12, 2015

Home-course advantage

  Grand Valley State senior Kelly Hartigan will compete as an individual at the Division II championships.

ALLENDALE, Mich. – The top women’s golfers in NCAA Division II will converge on Grand Valley State’s The Meadows Golf Course this week for the national championship. However, one golfer in particular will have the luxury of home-course advantage.

Grand Valley State senior Kelly Hartigan will compete as an individual after winning medalist honors at the East Super Regional.

None of the participants have played more rounds at The Meadows than Hartigan, and she hopes it serves her well when competition begins Wednesday morning.

“It’s always nice to finish out your career at nationals, and being at The Meadows is definitely more comforting,” Hartigan, of Lake Orion, Michigan, said. “Over the last four years I’ve played The Meadows a lot, and we’ve been working on the course this week. Knowing the course like the back of my hand will definitely help.”

The championships will be played Wednesday through Saturday and consists of 72 participants. The top three teams, along with the top three individuals not with a team from each Super Regional, advanced to the tournament.

Hartigan’s GVSU squad barely missed qualifying as a team, falling two strokes shy of third place at the East Super Regional.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Hartigan said. “I obviously wanted my team there for my last tournament of my college career but my coach and I will definitely make the best of it this week.”

Hartigan has prior experience at the championships. She placed tied for 12th a year ago while posting the second-lowest 72-hole score in school history with a 14-over-par 298, and was 16th as a freshman.

Hartigan hopes to better those results in her final event.

“When I came in as a freshman, I always wanted to compete in a national championship, and obviously I’ve already competed in two,” Hartigan said. “So to finish in the top 10 in my third chance at nationals would definitely be a goal of mine.”

Hartigan has blossomed into the most decorated women’s golfer in school history. She holds the record for most career wins (14), including back-to-back Super Regional titles, and has been named GLIAC Women’s Golf Athlete of the Year the past two seasons.

As a junior, she became the fourth Laker in school history to be named to the WGCA All-American First Team squad.

GVSU coach Rebecca Mailloux is thrilled for the opportunity to coach her top player one last time on the biggest stage.

“Nothing would’ve been worse for Kelly then the team not qualifying and Kelly having to end her career on that note of missing nationals by two strokes,” Mailloux said. “I know she’s disappointed that the team won’t be with her all week, but this gives her the opportunity to close out what has already been an amazing career at Grand Valley State. I’m looking forward to seeing how she’s going to do.”

Hartigan, a solid ball striker who is long off the tee, is expected to be in the hunt this week. However, Mailloux said relishing the experience is the top priority.

“I’m going in with the expectation of enjoying every moment and making it a good experience for Kelly,” she said. “She’s hitting the ball really well so we will just see what comes and where we are on Saturday morning. I want to give her the best opportunity to be in a good position to make a run for a national championship individually. 

“She thrives off competition in a way that not many kids do, and she doesn’t let the pressure get to her. She has performed best when we’ve needed her the most. She hits a lot of greens and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Hartigan said recent rainfall should present opportunities for low scores.

“With all the rain we’ve been having, it will definitely soften up the fairways and the greens should be rolling nice,” she said. “If I hit the ball well and my speed on the greens is good, then I think it will be OK.”

Hartigan, who played on the boy’s team at Chippewa Valley High School because there wasn’t a girl’s team, hasn’t thought much about the end of her banner career. 

“I think it will hit me at nationals,” said Hartigan, who will attend graduate school at George Washington in Washington D.C. “I’m ready to move onto different things, but it definitely will be emotional toward the end of nationals.”

A familiar group of perennial Division II powerhouses will vie for the team title.

Lynn  is the two-time defending national champions, while South Regional champion Rollins was runner-in 2011 and 2012. 

Nova Southeastern collected four national titles from 2009-12 and was runner-up in 2013.

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