May 8, 2015
When Kari Bellville walked off the University of Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course after the first round of the 2015 NCAA South Bend Regional on Thursday, there was no question where she was headed next.
Bellville hit the driving range at Warren, and then planned to work on her chipping, and intended to finish up by working on her putts. In all, the Notre Dame freshman figured to be working on her golf game for a couple of more hours after sinking her last putt on the 18th hole.
It's that kind of drive and determination that will help the Fighting Irish battle back in the next two rounds of the regional in their bid to advance to NCAA Championship action.
Bellville shot a 78 (+6) to help the Notre Dame women's golf team post its fourth-best score ever in NCAA regional competition. The Irish are tied for 12th place in the 18-team field at 302 (+14), while Duke leads the regional with an even-par 288. Action continues at Warren on Friday and Saturday.
Struggling early, Bellville adjusted well to finish strong, going one-over in her last 11 holes.
"There's still a lot to learn," Bellville said about transitioning to the college game. "Every day is a new experience, especially on the golf course. Golf isn't a game where you're perfect at all. When you think you are, there's still so much to improve on.
"(Thursday), particularly, was a learning experience. I've been in places I've never been in on this golf course, but, hey, I got out of it. It was a struggle, but you learn every day. I finished well on my back nine. I was only one-over. As long as I clean up my first few holes, I should be a different person for the second round."
There didn't appear to be a home-course advantage for the Irish, who are taking on a power-packed field that includes defending national champion Duke, fellow Atlantic Coast Conference power Wake Forest and top seed Arizona. Always challenging, the Warren layout was lengthened an additional 200 yards for the NCAA South Bend Regional.
"We had it going pretty good at the turn," Irish head coach Susan Holt said of the Irish first-round showing. "We started out a little shaky, and we made some birdies, and we started to right the ship a little bit. But it got a little sloppy in different places for everybody. We picked up some bogeys that were uncharacteristic, and for me, unexpected."
Notre Dame is coming off an impressive finish in the ACC Championship last month. The Irish ended up sixth, slicing 29 strokes off of last season's total.
"I'm pretty confident we will come back much better," Holt said. "I feel like this (Thursday's first round) certainly is going to be our worst round. We definitely had a lot of positives. Hopefully we can regroup and come out and play this course the way we know we can."
Holt loved the competitive nature of her team. The Irish balance is another asset that should benefit a comeback.
"The thing I like about this team is the fact that we don't just have one player," Holt said. "We do have some depth, and I think that is what we need to lean on. That will get us through. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but you never know what will happen. I know this group is competitive enough that they will give it their best shot."
Holt has led the Irish to eight NCAA regionals, and guided Notre Dame to its first appearance in the NCAA Championship in 2011. The Irish have demonstrated outstanding improvement this season, and are bringing in an equally strong recruiting class for next season.
"We've got a good freshman class coming in that we're super excited about," Holt said of the state of the program. "We're in a good place, and we're going to continue to keep building it.
"The NCAA Tournament is valuable experience for all of the players. My big thing with this championship is play the game, not the occasion. Don't get wrapped up in what it is and what it represents. Just go out and play. I know they were all a little nervous at the start, and that's to be expected. Now that they have one round finished, they can get relaxed and comfortable and play the way we know they can."
Sophomore Jordan Ferreira said that the Irish expect a strong finish to the NCAA Tournament.
"We've had a pretty successful season," Ferreira said. "We're looking forward to the next couple of days and continuing what we've been doing. The NCAA Tournament provides a great challenge. The course is set up tougher. There are so many great teams here. It's a lot of fun. We've had to grind through a lot of challenges this season. When we get down, we can't let that get to our heads. We have to keep fighting and keep playing, because there are still a couple of rounds left."
Bellville said that the resources that Notre Dame offers will help the Irish fight their way back into the hunt for the NCAA Championship.
"Notre Dame is awesome about helping student-athletes," Bellville said. "They do everything to make you a better person, excel in your sport and (help) your future. If you need something, they're going to help you any possible way."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent