They’ll battle until the fight is done.
Carrie Roberts says she didn’t have anything to do with this particular team trait, but the BYU women’s golf team that’s playing in the NCAA championships this week at Eugene Country Club in Oregon is the spitting image of her storied personality.
It’s a team that is competitive down to shoe spikes, resilient under pressure and as hardworking a crew as you’ll find in college golf. Some school administrators say this women’s golf team is the most focused of any group the athletic department has suited up and turned loose on a field, course, track or court.
The NCAA Championship consists of 24 teams and 12 individuals completing 54 holes of stroke play, from Thursday through May 22. The top 15 teams and nine individuals not on an advancing team will play one additional round of stroke play on May 23 to determine the 72-hole stroke play individual champion and also the top eight teams that will advance to match play competition on May 24-25.
Senior PGA Tour veteran Bruce Summerhays, whose nephew Daniel finished 23rd at last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, is Carrie’s father. Bruce has been a college coach at Stanford. The former University of Utah golfer and course designer knows something about what it takes to score on greens and make plays on fairways.
“My wife and I have had the chance to travel and watch this team grow the past two years,” said Bruce. “They are really a together team that doesn’t waste any time in their practice. It’s interesting to see them, no matter if it is practicing their short game or what, they don’t stand around talking, they just get down to work.”
This is why the payoff is so satisfying for this squad, which has won five tournaments this year, including the WCC title and qualified for this week’s championship with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA regional in Baton Rouge.
The signature shot of that regional for the Cougars was a 6-foot birdie putt by senior team captain Lea Garner. If she had missed it and made par, the Cougars would have been in a playoff with Houston. But with the make, BYU was Eugene-bound.
Garner stood up, confident as a Navy Seal, and plunked the ball in the hole as if she’d done it a million times. Actually, she’d done it plenty of times, according to the coach.
“It was amazing, absolutely incredible,” said Roberts. A YouTube video of the putt and subsequent celebration made the rounds within the hour.
“It is hard to put into words what it was like to be there, what it felt like and what it meant. Lea is a rock, she has done that all her career. When I was recruiting her, she would make pressure shots and putts all the time in all kinds of situations. I remember her making a 6-foot putt to beat (San Diego State-bound Utah junior golf star) Sirene Blair back in the day, and she is kind of the first one to ever beat Sirene. She made a birdie putt at the conference championships. The thing about her is she goes through her routine and practices it so much, she was just able to hit that big-time shot when we needed it. It was special for sure.”
That iconic moment speaks volumes about the Cougars, who are led by Garner and sensational freshman Rose Huang, who came to Provo from Hawaii and was named the WCC Player of the Year.
Roberts won’t take credit for the innate nature of her players, but they are from the same material we saw in Roberts, a dominating junior golfer in the state and key player for BYU back in the day. She was the 3A MVP in basketball at Wasatch High, an athlete who from an early age refused to lose and worked tirelessly at her game, according to Bruce Summerhays. “She’s been that way since she was a little pip squeak,” said her father.
Roberts says the core values, the building block of this championship squad, are simple traits.
“Hard work, lots and lots of hard work, great attitude and team unity,” she said. “Those are core values that we try to embody. Within that there are a lot of things going on, but this team does those things very well.
"These women are extremely competitive, resilient. We kind of play our own game, do our own thing, take one shot at a time. Really, individually, for whatever reason, they are all just that way. It’s not something I’ve done. It is something they’ve done or what their parents have done to make them extremely competitive and excited to compete. They love to be in that moment.”
The Cougars will be playing solo as a team on Thursday, which will represent their Sunday round in the championship as they are exempt from Sunday play. Roberts will send out her No. 5 player first, by herself, followed by No. 4, No. 3 and so on after a morning practice round in Eugene.
This is how Roberts breaks down her five players who’ve carried the team this season:
Lea Garner, senior, Bonneville High School: “Lea is simply the rock I talked about. She literally carried this team on her back the past four years. She’s had a lot of help this year, and that’s been something she’s had to deal with. It’s like ‘oh, I’m not No. 1 any more?’ But she has handled it like a captain should and supported those in front of her to where she has regained that No. 1 spot. College golf is a game where everyone has to do their part, it’s a team sport, but she has carried us through regions. She is well-respected by her teammates both on and off the court because of how she carries herself.”
Rose Huang, freshman, Hawaii: “She is the Player of the Year in the WCC this year. She knows her game really well, knows her swing really well. People just described her as a giant killer when I was recruiting her. She’s super competitive, a lot of fun, sweet, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet but when she gets on the course she’s gonna do everything she can to take you down. Her short game is her strength for sure. I’ve seen her get up and down from some impossible locations.”
Kindra Dalton, sophomore, Wake Forest, N.C.: “Kindra walked on her freshman year. That tells you about her work ethic and her competitiveness. Her game is just super solid fundamentals. Talk about someone who is able to turn a bad thing into a good thing, I’ve never seen anybody do it quite like she does, take a bad round and flip it to a really good round. I think one of the hardest things to do is to overcome that fear or insecurity around golf courses, but I’ve never seen anyone do it like her.”
Alex White, junior TCU transfer, Lompoc, California: “Alex White is one of the most focused individuals you’ve ever met. Extremely focused when she practices and extremely focused on the golf course. That sets her apart. She is a great ball striker, which is her strength.”
Brooklyn Hocker, junior, Idaho Falls, Idaho: “Probably our hardest worker. It’s hard to single her out because everyone works so hard, but she gets really amped when it gets tough. She is excited to play and she lives for the moment. It is one of the funner things to see as a coach. She gets fired up and gives you a fist bump that almost breaks your hand. She just hits it a mile. She is really good with her wedges, just deadly. That mindset, honestly, everyone has had it, but she is one person who, when somebody doesn’t have a good round, she does. She comes through when we need it as a five player. Perfect ham and egg player.”
The BYU women, winners at the Fort Collins Ram Classic, the Aggie Invitational, the Rainbow Wahine Invitational in Hawaii, their own BYU Entrata Classic and the WCC championship, is the third BYU-related sports team to challenge for a national title in the past two weeks.
While they are not favored in Eugene, they are talented enough to make a run at the title if they play consistently, avoid big numbers and stay within striking distance come Monday.
Roberts will take the team out Thursday morning, make notes and charts, go through a normal practice round, come up with a game plan on how to attack each hole and be decisive in decisions. That’s her style.
“This is a special bunch,” said Roberts. “They’ve never complained. I’ve never heard them complain. They are ready to go and anxious to get going. They all get along and have fun. Nobody gets crabby. We have to take a flight at 5 a.m. and get up at 3, they say let’s do it. We have to play 36 holes, they are ready to get out and go and they don’t say anything. We need to overcome a five-shot deficit and they are motivated to meet that goal. They are a unique and special group with a great work ethic.
“We have our discussions, but ultimately they are very respectful of each other and the coaches.”
Bruce Summerhays says his daughter is really “organized” and “gets things done.”
Concludes the father, “She works and understands what’s happening in this new age of golf with all the new equipment. She dots all her I’s and crosses all her T’s. One thing she does the best is coach them individually, she knows what she can do with one player and then the next. You have to do that with athletes, none of them are the same, and you can’t treat them the same or teach them the same.”
Roberts keeps this week simple: Give us a tee time, tell us where and we’ll play.
Now on the first tee, Brooklyn Hocker, Brigham Young. …