Qualifying for a third consecutive NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, which began May 18 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma, is an impressive accomplishment for Furman. Having a realistic chance to be holding the big trophy when match play ends on May 23 may be even more so.
Head coach Jeff Hull has a pretty good idea what would end the debate once and for all, however.
“The goal going in is to win,” he said. “We feel like we’re one of the top teams in the country.”
Furman, which finished third out of 18 teams at last week’s NCAA Tallahassee Regional in Florida, is ranked seventh nationally by Golfstat, as is has for much of the season, and it’s tough to argue this isn’t the most formidable Furman squad in at least two decades.
Harford, Alice Chen ’18, Srinivasan and Reona Hirai ’18 made the 2018 Southern Conference Tournament look like a Furman intersquad, with Hirai earning medalist honors for her first individual collegiate title as they took the four of the top five spots in the field. Entering this season, Harford, a second-team All-American in 2017, held the school record for single-season stroke average, and the 2018 averages of all four would rank among Furman’s top eight ever.
Jacqueline Bendrick ’18, meanwhile, was also all-conference and turned in the three best rounds of her career at the regional to finish ninth overall and second among Furman players, behind Srinivasan, at 7-under par. The five led Furman to four tournament championships this season, and a glimpse of their full potential showed itself March 23-25 at the Clemson Invitational when all were under par and finished in the top 15 as the Paladins shredded a strong field by 10 shots with a school record 30-under team score.
“I think it just shows our depth, because any one of our five can win a tournament at any time,” Hull said.
Twenty-four teams will compete for the national title. The top 15 after the third round of stroke play on Sunday play one more round on Monday to determine a final top eight, which will then square off in match play quarterfinals and semifinals on Tuesday to set up Wednesday’s championship.
“We’re ranked among the best of them there, so if we play like we have been that’ll get us into match play,” said Harford, who finished eighth at last year’s NCAA Championship. “This year we feel so much more prepared for it, and we know what it’s going to be like.”
The Paladins were 20th in the 2016 championship and 12th last year, seven shots short of reaching match play. This will mark the third national tournament for Chen and Harford while Bendrick, who missed last season with an injury, and Srinivasan will be competing in their second.
Furman is one of 10 teams playing in at least a third consecutive NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, and the program’s 19th trip overall ranks 10th nationally since the NCAA took over the sport in 1982. The Paladins’ best finish was second in 1987, when they lost by a single shot to San Jose State.
Prior to 1982, the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) organized the collegiate golf national championship, which Furman won in 1976 fueled by future LPGA Hall of Famers Betsy King ’77 and Beth Daniel ’78.
Furman and Kent State (Mid-American) are the only schools in the 2018 field not from a Power 5 conference, and outside of Furman (2,800) and Wake Forest (7,591) every other competing institution has an enrollment of more than 15,000. The six schools ranked ahead of Furman – Alabama, Arkansas, UCLA, Duke, Stanford and Southern California – have combined to win 14 national championships.
“Some of the big schools might look at us and be like, ‘Wow, you guys have yourselves a good little team there,’” Harford said. “We’re like, ‘OK, yeah, we’re little, but I think we’ve proven ourselves the last couple of years.’”
For the first time, The Golf Channel will televise the NCAA Women’s Championship, beginning Monday with the final round of stroke play.
The Paladins tee off at 2:21 p.m. EST today in a group with Texas and Arizona and will take the course at 9:36 a.m. EST Saturday. For more, including a full list of participating teams, visit FurmanPaladins.com.