Women's golf looking to continue upward trajectory

Women's golf team

Kylie Edwards struggled during preseason “boot camp”—an intra-squad qualifier that determined UC Santa Cruz’s early season travel team. Playing on the narrow layout at Santa Cruz’s Pasatiempo Golf Club for the first time, the Roseville freshman was admittedly nervous, and she was hitting balls out of bounds as a result.

She didn’t qualify for the travel team, carding two matching scores of 111 across 36 holes. But UC Santa Cruz women’s golf coach Paulette Pera opted to bring Edwards to a season-opening tournament in Texas, nonetheless.

“And I’m glad I brought her,” Pera said, after Edwards shaved a whopping 25 strokes from her qualifying round by recording a team-best 86 during the first round of the Lady Bulldog Fall Classic on Sept. 11. “We got her hitting the ball a little bit straighter and because of that, she got in less precarious positions.”

“She got that experience,” Pera added, “so that’s good.”

While Edwards’ turnaround performance proved just how fickle golf can be, it also provided a snapshot at the individual potential of the Banana Slugs moving forward. And with Pera’s goal to lower the team’s scoring average as the season progresses, it was also an encouraging sign for the Slugs, whose focus is very much on the future.

Youthful, to be sure, the 2017–18 Slugs include no seniors and just two juniors on their nine-player roster. But after last season’s continued growth resulted in the Slugs earning a sixth-place finish at the American Southwest Conference championships—a positive after the team finished in the back of the pack for much of the year—Pera believes her team this season can continue that upward trajectory.

“I think we’re all improving. We’re all building it up,” Edwards said. “And I think we’re going to improve every round and hopefully win some tournaments in the future.”

The future is bright after UC Santa Cruz students in May voted to approve a new student fee to support athletics. The stability will leave fewer question marks for coaches looking to recruit.

That will help Pera, who started the program 15 years ago.

This year’s newcomers include Edwards—a “boomer” off the tee, Pera said—as well as Jessica Salazar (Orange) and Angie Yang (Menlo Park). Salazar finished as the top Slug with a 20-over 164 (82–82) at the California State Intercollegiate on Sept. 18–19.

Yang attended Menlo-Atherton High and garnered first-team all-league honors during her senior season.

“I have high expectations for her after seeing her scores in high school,” Pera said.

While attending Wahkiakum High as a junior foreign exchange student, new Slug Sarah Shi qualified for the state tournament, becoming the first female from the Cathlamet, Wash., school to do so, according to The Daily News (Longview, Wash.).

In Texas, Shi finished as the top Slug after carding a 178 (89–89).

“And I see nothing but better things coming from her as well,” Pera said of Shi, who is from China. Shi shot 21-over 165 (85–80) at the California State Intercollegiate, which was held at Olivas Links Golf Course in Ventura.

Juniors Julia Martin (Cameron Park) and Victoria Morales (Perris) have continued to shave strokes since the beginning of last season, Pera said, while sophomore Maia Dupuis (Antioch) is also back in the fold.

Sophomore Sean Hong (Riverside), who shot a 186 in Ventura, is one of the top returners for UCSC. She spent much of the summer practicing her putting, either on the course or on a mat inside her house.

During the first round in Texas, she didn’t record any three-putts en route to an 89.

“Her short game has improved a lot,” Pera said.

Continuing that improvement, among Hong and others, is key during the 2017–18 golf season, which breaks in early October before picking up again in late March. It’s up to the players to not get too rusty, Pera said.

Edwards said she’ll still be at the driving range, still practicing. Hong, too.

The ASC Championship is scheduled for April 23–24 at Lakecliff Golf Club in Spicewood, Texas. Texas-Tyler is the defending champion.

“I think it’s going to be a pretty good season,” Hong said. “I think it will definitely be better than last year.”