FAYETTEVILLE If the fall was any indication, big things are in store for Arkansas’ golfers this spring.
The Razorbacks’ men and women both had strong first halves to their seasons, which stretch from before Labor Day to the NCAA championships the week of Memorial Day. Both teams are near the end of an off period that extends from late October to February.
The men begin their spring season Monday with the Sea Best Invitational at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. The women's spring season begins Sunday, Feb. 11 with the Lady Puerto Rico Classic in San Juan.
Arkansas’ women spent most of the fall ranked No. 1 by Golfweek and are No. 3 for the resumption of the 2017-18 season this month. The Razorbacks won three of the four tournaments in which they played in the fall, including the Maryb S. Kauth Alamo Invitational in San Antonio.
In that tournament, Arkansas topped second-place finishers Texas A&M and TCU by 18 strokes with a 22-under par team score in three rounds.
In three fall wins, the Razorbacks won by a combined 38 strokes and shot 79-under par. Arkansas also won the Mason Rudolph Classic near Nashville with a 41-under team score (tying an NCAA record) and the ANNIKA Intercollegiate near Minneapolis at 16-under.
The only tournament in which Arkansas did not win was the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational in North Carolina, where its 13-under score was 18 strokes behind Duke. The Razorbacks also finished behind Alabama and South Carolina at that event - teams they had beaten at other tournaments.
The women are 52-3 in head-to-head competition this year.
“It is the best fall we’ve had since I’ve been at Arkansas and we are heading in the right direction,” said Shauna Estes-Taylor, the Razorbacks’ 11th-year head coach. “I also know that we have things we can tidy up to keep improving.”
Arkansas also has a pair of individuals that had first-place finishes in the fall and could challenge for championships in the spring.
Golfweek rates junior Maria Fassi the No. 4 individual in the women’s game with an average round score of 69. Fassi’s 16-under at the Mason Rudolph Classic tied for first and she finished first again with a 10-under at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate. She was sixth in the team win in San Antonio with a 4-under.
Fassi shot a final-round 64 in her first-place tie at the Mason Rudolph Classic. It came less than 48 hours after she learned her grandfather had died.
“The team really rallied around her,” Estes-Taylor said. “We played with a purpose to win for her grandpa and to win for our Razorback family. It was stellar golf by everyone.”
Senior Alana Uriell ended the fall rated 11th by Golfweek and redshirt junior-transfer Dylan Kim is 15th. Kim transferred from Baylor, where she was the Big 12 individual champion last year and finished fourth nationally as a freshman.
Uriell and Kim each have finished top five in the Razorbacks’ three team wins. Uriell’s average through 15 rounds is 69.67; Kim’s 70.08.
“Overall, it (is) a group effort,” Estes-Taylor said. “You can’t win with just one person; it’s a group of five.”
On the men’s side, sophomore Mason Overstreet is the defending national runner-up. Overstreet shot two rounds of 65 and won for the first time at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate at Vestavia Hills, Ala., near Birmingham. He also was runner-up at the team’s win at the Gopher Invitational.
Overstreet is 26-under par in 15 rounds this year. He has finished under-par 10 times and had 5 eagles and 60 birdies in the 270 holes he played.
He also won by six shots in December at the Patriot All-America Invitational, an amateur tour event.
Arkansas’ No. 25 men won the Gopher Invitational near Minneapolis with a 4-under score that was 10 strokes better than second-place Baylor. The field also included defending national champion Oklahoma, which finished third.
Among the Razorbacks’ five fall events also were runner-up finishes at the Bearcat Invitational in Cincinnati and the Royal Oaks Intercollegiate in Dallas. Arkansas’ men are 45-11 in head-to-head competition.
Both Arkansas teams are relatively young, which bodes well for future seasons. That includes 2019 when Arkansas is scheduled to host the NCAA Championships at The Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville for the first time.
But for now the Razorbacks have their sights set on the 2018 championships in nearby Stillwater, Okla. If the fall was any indication, it could be a memorable site for some Arkansas golfers.