Year-long goal here for golfers

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 2:11 a.m.

Arkansas golfer Kaylee Benton hits from the No. 3 tee box during the local qualifier for the LPGA NW Arkansas Championship on Monday, June 19, 2017, at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

FAYETTEVILLE -- More than a decade of recruiting around the world, building rosters and squaring off against the best talent in the country have led to this moment for Coach Shauna Taylor and the Arkansas Razorbacks' women's golf team.

The No. 2 Razorbacks take their most accomplished team ever into the NCAA Championships today at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

No. 2 Arkansas women’s golf at

NCAA Championships

Where Stillwater, Okla.

Host Oklahoma State

Course Karsten Creek, par 72, 6,328 yards

When Today through Wednesday

Format Three rounds of stroke play, field cut to 15 teams for final round of stroke play and determination of medalist; field cut to 8 teams for 3 rounds of match play

Arkansas tee time 12:10 p.m. Central

Playing partners No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 UCLA

Projected Arkansas lineup (stroke average) Maria Fassi (69.67), Dylan Kim (71.37), Alana Uriell (71.43), Kaylee Benton (73.87), Gara Gorlei (73.88)

Noteworthy

Defending champion Arizona State, ranked No. 13, extended the Pac-12’s streak of championships to three last season, following victories by Stanford (2015) and Washington (2016). … The field is composed of seven Pac-12 teams, five ACC teams, five SEC teams, three Big 12 teams, two Big Ten teams, Furman of the Southern Conference and Kent State of the MAC. … Alabama’s NCAA title in 2012 is the only one for the SEC since current Arkansas Coach Shauna Taylor played for the 2001 title team at Georgia. … The eight-team match play format began in 2009 for college men and in 2015 for college women. … The SEC became the first conference to adopt the eight-team match play format for its championship this year.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, winner of a school-record seven titles this season, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. with No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 UCLA. The Razorbacks are seeking their first national championship in the sport.

The 24 teams will play three rounds of stroke play before the field is narrowed to 15 teams for a final round of stroke play Monday.

After that, match play will start with the top eight teams seeded for two rounds of matches Tuesday, and the championship match is set at 2:25 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Razorbacks are sizzling, coming off a match-play victory over South Carolina to claim their first SEC championship, followed by an 11-shot triumph over host Texas at the NCAA Austin Regional.

"I think we've had a great year, but this is the one we've been aiming for," Taylor said. "We're going to go over to Stillwater on a mission to try to take care of our business and play Arkansas golf, and if we do that we'll be in a good place."

The Razorbacks dominated in Austin, with Maria Fassi firing an 8 under to claim her eighth individual title, Dylan Kim finishing alone in third place at 5 under, and senior Alana Uriell and Kaylee Benton tying for fourth at 4 under.

The junior trio of Benton, Fassi and Kim all qualified for the U.S. Women's Open on Monday, with Benton and Kim tying for first at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, and Fassi finishing second at Deerwood Golf Club in Kingwood, Texas.

"We're in great spirits," said Kim, who transferred into the program from Baylor. "It's an exciting opportunity to put another feather in our cap, and it's a great time of year because we're all done with finals. We're focused on golf and having fun with each other."

Benton, the great-granddaughter of former Arkansas football great Jim Benton, lived in Cabot from third grade through ninth grade before moving to Arizona. She began her career at UNLV before transferring to Arkansas prior to the 2016-2017 season.

"We definitely haven't reached the climax yet," Benton said. "We are all playing the best golf we have all year."

The Razorbacks credit Taylor with fostering a bond.

"It starts with the leader," Kim said. "She has built a really good culture, and she continues to contribute to that culture every day.

"She obviously was an incredible player, and I have so much respect for everything she says about a golf course or course management or chipping technique."

Fassi said Taylor deserves the credit for putting the team together.

"I mean on the paper, yes, we are a good team, but there's other teams that might have better players than us," she said. "I think she focuses on who we are as people before just recruiting us for our golf achievements."

The Razorbacks got a strong sense of how match play can work after going 3-0 in that format at the SEC championships with victories over Florida, Alabama and South Carolina.

Benton and Fassi each went 3-0 during match play at the SECs, while Uriell, Kim and junior Cara Gorlei won one match each. Kim and Gorlei each had an all-square match suspended after the victory was clinched.

"I think it was a great thing from the SEC to move to match play because I think we're one of the strongest conferences out there, yet we were like never really successful at nationals with match play," Fassi said.

Taylor said she and assistant coach Mike Adams learned a lot about structuring their lineup at the SECs in Hoover, Ala.

"It was really helpful for us to get the feeling for what that's like and sort of practice, if you will," Taylor said. "It ended up working out well for us at SECs, but I think we learned something along the way."

The Razorbacks will play head to head against the Crimson Tide and Bruins in the first two rounds before the field is re-sorted.

Taylor said Arkansas' home course at The Blessings, which will host next year's NCAA Championships, should be a great lead-in to the difficult Karsten Creek layout. She drove to Stillwater on Wednesday to walk the course and formulate a game plan.

"They're both similar championship golf courses that will help us a lot as we head over," she said. "Obviously, it'll be challenging. The rough will be tough. The greens will be slope-y and fast, but it's all stuff we've seen this year. I feel like our girls have some momentum and we're looking forward to getting started."

Sports on 05/18/2018