With three freshmen in the lineup, UK captures second team title in as many seasons
WOODBURY, Minn. – With a retooled roster under less-than-ideal circumstances due to inclement weather, the Kentucky women’s golf team underscored an internal belief that this is a new and talented team with renewed expectations by winning its season-opening tournament at the Minnesota Invitational.
The Wildcats, with three freshmen playing in their first collegiate tournament, opened the 2019-20 season by overcoming a stacked field and an ever-changing format to win tournament in Woodbury, Minnesota, by three shots.
UK battled through a delayed start Monday, three additional lightning delays and ultimately a shortened tournament because of travel schedules to win its second tournament in as many seasons and its first away from Lexington since September 2013.
Kentucky traded the lead with Virginia Tech throughout Tuesday’s second round and then held off the hard-charging East Carolina Pirates for the title.
And the Wildcats did all that with three-fifths of its team lineup playing in a college tournament for the first time.
The championship marks the fifth of the Golda Borst era but this one might be its most impressive. Of the 15 teams in the field, eight played in the NCAA postseason a year ago. Several were either in the Golfweek preseason top 25 or received votes.
UK topped them all during the two-day tournament with an even-par 288 in the first round and a 1-over-par 289 in the second round. The Wildcats raced to the lead Monday despite the disjointed schedule and then returned to the course Tuesday for a thrilling back-and-forth battle.
Picking up play from where the tournament left off Monday, nine teams started Tuesday within nine shots of each other and Virginia Tech breathing down the Wildcats’ necks. The leaderboard changed nearly every hole with Kentucky falling behind Virginia Tech by two strokes at one point.
But UK, led by freshman Jensen Castle – believed to be the highest-rated signee in Kentucky women’s golf history – left nothing to doubt in the final holes. Playing with the composure and fortitude typical of someone beyond her years, Castle essentially sealed the tournament with four birdies over the final seven holes holes, including rolling in three straight on holes 7-9.
Castle, who has played in premier amateur events like the Girls Junior PGA Championship and the ANNIKA Invitational USA and was ranked No. 9 overall and No. 4 in the class of 2019 at the end of her high school career by the American Junior Golf Association, leaned on her previous experience and dismissed any comeback attempt from the rest of the field.
Castle tied for third in her first college tournament with the strong ending, shooting a pair of 69s in both rounds to finish at 6-under par overall. She finished just three shots back of individual medalist Caterina Don from Georgia but totaled 13 birdies in the two rounds, more than any other player in the field.
The freshman sensation certainly wasn’t alone in the team victory. All five Wildcats competing for the team score placed in the top 35. Add in junior Sarah Fite, who was playing as an individual and tied for seventh, and it made for six in the top 35. Four were in the top 20.
The veterans certainly played a key part in the win. Senior Sarah Shipley and junior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen tied for 17th with scores of 2-over par. Shipley shot a pair of 73s while Svejgård Nielsen carded a 72 in the first round and a 74 in the second.
For Shipley, it was her sixth career top-20 finish and follows a sensational summer that included two titles in a month at the Women’s Golf Association of Michigan and the talent-rich Women’s Western Amateur.
The top-20 showing was Svejgård Nielsen’s fourth in just 11 career events.
As important as Kentucky’s leading freshman was in sealing the win, the other two newcomers in action, Marissa Wenzler and Kelsey Wylie, were nearly as impressive given their lack of experience.
Wenzler, the 2018 Ohio High School Athletic Association state champion, finished at 3-over par (74-73) and in a tie for 25th. Wylie tied for 35th with a 75 and a 74 to end her first two rounds at 5-over par. Wenzler was key late in the championship by going 1-under par over her final eight holes.
Not to be lost in the team title was arguably the best performance from a rapidly improving Fite. Playing as an individual, Fite not only captured the second top-10 showing of her career by tying for seventh, her 70 in the final round was an 18-hole career low. She finished at 1-under par for the tournament.
UK captured the championship in its fourth appearance at the Minnesota Invitational in the last five seasons. Kentucky’s previous best finish at the tournament was fifth last season with Leonie Bettel tying for sixth, one of her five top-10 showings in 2018-19. The Wildcats have won individual medalist honors before in Woodbury with UK great Isabelle Johansson tying for first in September 2016.
Kentucky will try to ride the momentum of the season-opening win into the rest of its fall schedule. Select individuals will play next week at Greenbrier Country Club in Lexington at the MSU Greenbrier Invitational. Team competition will resume in just over two weeks at UK’s annual home tournament, the Bettie Lou Evans Invitational, where Kentucky will try to defend its title from last season.
In all, the fall features five events with four team tournaments.