PULLMAN – Tyler Jones doesn’t understate his excitement when it comes to Palouse Ridge Golf Club hosting this weekend’s Pac-12 women’s golf championships.
The general manager at the course knows it’s a pretty big deal, especially considering that seven of the participating teams are ranked in the nation’s top 25 by GolfStat – including No. 1 UCLA and its top-ranked player, Erynne Lee.
“It’s tremendously important,” Jones said. “We’ve been looking forward to this event since the day it was booked. We’re looking forward to having the other Pac-12 schools to see what we have up here in Pullman. Hopefully they like it, because we do.”
Eleven teams will descend on the course this weekend – Utah doesn’t have a team – beginning this morning at 8:30 a.m., when pairings from Washington State and Arizona State tee off on the first hole.
Saturday and Sunday pairings and tee times will be determined based on today and Saturday’s order of finish.
For Washington State, it’s a chance to continue building. The Cougars enter the weekend ranked 11th in the conference, though they carded a season-low round score of 291 in the third round of last week’s Pacific Coast Intercollegiate at Half Moon Bay.
That day, freshman Kristen Rue shot a season-best 5-under 67, and WSU sophomore Mallory Kent, the team’s No. 1 player, finished in 36th place with a 3-day total of 222.
This weekend, WSU coach Kelli Kamimura said, is about WSU players posting the best scores they can as a building block toward next season.
Kent has already taken several steps forward. As a freshman, she averaged a shade over 79 per round, admitting that she wasn’t as focused during practice as she needed to be.
This season she’s been WSU’s best player, averaging just over 76 per round, and winning the Anteater Invitational earlier this month. That tournament also marked WSU’s first team championship.
“I feel like I’ve really gone to another level this year,” Kent said. “My practices have been a lot different, my mental game I feel like has really taken a step up this year.
“Just a different focus – having really a main focus every time I go out instead of just going out to hit and mess around.”
WSU has been playing Palouse Ridge often in recent days, though conditions may be a bit rougher today than earlier in the week. Weather.com calls for a mix of rain and snow showers early today, with an eventual high temperature of 50 degrees.
Kamimura said the course lends itself to shorter drives during the spring, but it can be easier to hit greens, too.
“You lose a little distance, but the greens are more receptive to some wedge shots and approach shots coming in,” Kamimura said.
Seven of the nation’s top 20 golfers will participate this weekend – Lee (2), Lee Lopez (4) and Tiffany Lua (6) of UCLA, Giulia Molinaro (3) of Arizona State, and Lisa McCloskey (10) and Doris Chen (17) of USC.
“I’m really anxious to see what they’re going to shoot,” said Jones, who added that the greens will be double-mowed, but the course will otherwise play the same as usual. “Even in mild conditions they could tear it up, but you never know.”