Temperatures soared into the mid-80s Sunday when Barry University sophomore Tilda Larsson and her teammates played the first day in the Sunshine State Conference Championship at the Country Club of Winter Haven in Winter Haven, Florida.
To Florida natives, the 80-degree weather in the winter months and early spring is no big deal. It happens all the time.
But for Larsson, who is from Emmaboda, Sweden, Barry in Miami Shores is a winter paradise.
“I love it,” Larsson said Wednesday afternoon. “It is a really good opportunity to play golf all year and understand the game of golf and not just hitting balls. It is great for improvement.”
And Larsson has improved after coming off a successful freshman year in which she earned first-team All-American honors and placed fifth in the conference tournament. Larsson was also selected Women’s Golf Coaches Association co-freshman of the year.“This year she built on that,” Barry women’s golf coach Shannon Sykora said. “She is very consistent. She is extremely competitive and she works hard. Those things together make her a very good player.”
As well as she played a year ago, racking up numerous honors, Larsson has been even better this season. Larsson is one of the favorites in this year’s SSC Championship, which runs Sunday through Tuesday.
Earlier this season, Larsson won her third tournament of the year, which marked a school record. She now has five career tournament victories, which is also a school record.
“It is very cool,” she said. “I didn’t expect that from myself when I came here as a freshman. It is fun to have a record. People in the future will look at that and see my name.”
Sykora figured Larsson was going to have a positive impact on the women’s golf program at Barry.
“Well, we have been building up to this,” Sykora said. “Tilda was great as a freshman. I started recruiting her in her senior year. We built on that with some of the other kids here as well. We try to do everything we can to make these girls successful. We give them every tool they need to be successful.”
A year ago, Larsson helped Barry finish fifth out of nine teams in an extremely competitive conference.
For an example of the depth of talented teams in SSC, look at the South Regional ranking in which Barry is No. 1, followed by Saint Leo, Rollins, Nova Southeastern, Florida Tech and Lynn.
It will be a competitive three days of golf, and May 8-10, these same teams will see each other again at the Super Regional in Elgin, South Carolina. The top three teams in regional advances to the NCAA Championship May 17-20 in Findlay, Ohio.
Larsson understands in order for Barry to do well in the postseason, she likely will have to play well. She has answered that challenge, earning SSC women’s golfer of the week five times as a sophomore.
“I really like it, but I kind of put more pressure on myself because I know that I have to score well for the team to do well,” she said. “At the same time, it makes me a little more comfortable because even though I am not scoring well, maybe someone else is scoring well. I feel both pressure and a little bit more comfortable.”
One reason she knows she doesn’t have to score low every time is because of the emergence of freshman Charlotte Puts.
“The other players feed off Tilda, but we have a freshman behind her who is ranked third in the country,” Sykora said. “Tilda is ranked second. (Puts) is a very solid player as well and has done good things behind Tilda.”
A good example of Barry’s depth was the Hurricane Invitational Feb. 27-March 1. It was filled with Division I teams. Barry placed fifth out of 15 teams and Larsson took third individually.
“We beat a lot of good Division I teams there,” Sykora said.
Also playing well in that tournament was senior Martina Bertuccioli, who finished 18th.
Most recently, Barry took second out of 15 teams in the Barry Women’s Invitational March 27-28. In that tournament, Larsson took first with a three-round score of 214 and Puts tied for fourth with a score of 217.
The focus for Larsson now is the SSC Championship.
“I am looking forward to it,” she said. “We haven’t had a tournament in a while. It will be a lot of fun.”
Overall, Larsson has enjoyed the experience of being a student-athlete in the United States. She has also excelled in the classroom. Her accomplishments in academics are just as impressive. Last year, majoring in finance, she made the Dean’s list in the spring, the Athletic Director’s list in the fall and was a WGCA All-American scholar.
“Being a student-athlete is really good,” Larsson said. “You get an education and you get to play golf, something I love. For me, I feel I am more productive when I am playing a sport. You have your schedule so you plan everything. I enjoy being a student-athlete here.”
Rollins College women’s golf is the team to beat
Rollins College enters the postseason as the team to beat for good reason. Rollins, the defending national champions, was also runner-up in 2015.
The Tars will get an early test on how they stack up against some of the best teams in the country Sunday through Tuesday in the Sunshine State Conference Championship. They are the defending conference champions. Five of the top 10 teams in the country are in the SSC.
The three golfers to watch for Rollins are junior Lexie Toth, who has a 75.29 stroke average; senior Paige Lyle, a 75.96 stroke average; and freshman Seher Atwal, a 76.15 stroke average.
Findlay having a solid season
Findlay entered Sunday, the final day of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, in first place with a 13-stroke lead over second place Northern Michigan.
It is not surprising Findlay is doing well. Findlay is ranked second in the East Regional behind Indianapolis, which was national runner-up last season and national champions in 2015.
Findlay sophomore Makenzie Torres enters the last day of the GLIAC Championship with a five-stroke lead.