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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The women’s golf team’s surge to historic heights

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Article Originally Published by John Fields on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by John Fields on North Texas Daily

Having charted a historic season this past year, women’s golf completed a five-year climb from a national ranking in the 200s to winning its second-ever bid to NCAA Regionals.

The berth marked women’s golf’s second time making a regional tournament in program history and first as an automatic qualifier after winning the Conference USA title. Junior Audrey Tan took the C-USA individual title in what was also a first for the program.

“It’s pretty cool to know we were part of history like that,” Tan said. “Just a bunch of amazing people, an amazing team and I’m so glad I could do this with this amazing bunch of people.”

Reaching those milestones was an achievement five years in the making, dating back to head coach Michael Akers’ inaugural season with the program, 2016-17. Akers reached the regional tournament six times in his 10 seasons as Texas State University’s head coach from 2006-2016 before taking over a No. 201-ranked North Texas program.

During Akers’ time at the helm, the Mean Green have achieved program records in 18-hole, 36-hole and 54-hole low scores and achieved the highest official Golfstat ranking in program history at No. 21 this past fall. North Texas’ No. 36 ranking to end this season was also its highest finish ever.

“I’ve been here five years and the team is just completely different from when I started out,” Senior Lauren Cox said. “The team is full of a bunch of hard workers and we push each other to get better. Each of us individually have contributed to our ranking increases.”

Now finished with her fifth and final year at North Texas, Cox has been a key part of the team’s upswing since arriving with Akers in 2016.

In her five seasons with the Mean Green, Cox became the most decorated golfer in program history. She lowered the single-season scoring average each of her last three years (most recently to 72.26 strokes per round last season) and tallied the program’s eighth individual title ever and first since 2012-13 at the 2020 Entrada Classic.

Cox was also named First Team All-Conference each of the last three seasons.

“I think a lot about [Cox] when I’m recruiting,” Akers said. “[Recruits] have to possess that work ethic, that they’re going to put in extra time beyond the 20 hours the NCAA allows us to practice as a team. […] Lauren came into the program and she wasn’t even traveling right away on a team that wasn’t very good. She just kept working and working, improving and improving. She has that inner fire, that inner desire to be good.”

One golfer alone does not make a program successful, however, as five golfers compete at tournaments and the four lowest rounds among them contribute to a team’s overall score each day. Improved depth in recent years has helped elevate the Mean Green program as a whole.

In the spring of 2020, North Texas saw this depth rounding into form as it was on the precipice of qualifying for NCAA Regionals with a No. 51 ranking nationally (the top 50 teams typically make the tourney). The Mean Green won the Entrada Classic on March 10, 2020, but saw their season end abruptly as COVID-19 shut down college sports shortly thereafter.

The team returned motivated this past season as juniors Audrey Tan, Patricia Sinolungan and Katie Finley (a 2019 transfer from Texas A&M University) each played key parts in the team’s continued rise.

Tan was named First Team All-Conference after recording the program’s second-lowest scoring average ever (72.85 strokes per round) this past season, trailing Cox’s latest record. Finley had the lowest round in program history last fall (65) and posted the team’s third-best scoring average (74.74 strokes per round) en route to Third Team All-Conference honors. Sinolungan’s 75.52 scoring average last season was fourth on the team as she posted consistent scores for much of the season.

“I signed Patty and Audrey in the same class, that was really a homerun recruiting class,” Akers said. “Definitely the team is deeper and we have seven players who can all compete in our top five. That just makes things competitive in the qualifying process. It makes them better [because] they have to play well just to make the top five.”

Besides the players’ skill on the golf course, Cox said chemistry across the team has been key to their success.

“It’s very rare with a group of girls that everybody gets along,” Cox said. “There’s no drama on our team and that has really helped us.”

Akers said the team’s record-breaking success over the last few seasons is important but only a stepping stone toward his ultimate goal of advancing to the national championship tournament and winning it.

“[I] can’t just sit around and say, ‘Oh, we did it,’” Akers said. “It’s a continuous deal. Now that we’re good, we’re going to have a facility and already have so many great things going for us, it’s just my job to stay hungry and keep going.”

Featured Image: Senior Lauren Cox drives the ball in practice on Oct. 2, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

Source: North Texas Daily

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