By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Returning to the site of their first Big 12 title, the No. 17/18 Baylor women's golf team is the top seed for the Big 12 Championship that starts Friday at The Dominion Country Club in San Antonio, Texas.
Baylor lapped the field to win the 2015 title by 12 strokes, shooting 3-over-par 867 over 54 holes at The Dominion. Just two years later, though, redshirt sophomore Dylan Kim is the only holdover from that team that will play this week.
"I played well there, so I have good vibes and expect a good week," said Kim, a second-team All-American as a freshman who sat out most of last season when she had surgery to remove a benign leg tumor.
Head coach Jay Goble believes The Dominion is a course that fits his team. In addition to Kim, the lineup this week includes 23rd-ranked junior Amy Lee, 65th-ranked sophomore Maria Vesga and freshmen Cheerie Tan and Fiona Liddell.
"If Amy Lee plays the way she's capable of playing, she's going to rip that place apart," Goble said of Lee, who leads the team with a 71.38-stroke average and six top-10 finishes. "Maria played great there in her final round last year. And I think it's a good golf course (for Tan and Liddell) as well. They're both good wedge players, and you're going to have a lot of opportunities to hit wedges close out there. I really believe it's a good place for us."
As the top seed, Baylor will be paired with No. 18/17 Oklahoma State and No. 20/23 Oklahoma, with Friday's tee times beginning at 8 a.m. off the No. 1 tee box.
"It's tough to get up super early, but it's also better for us to get up and get out on the course before it gets windy and crazy, which usually tends to happen in the afternoon this time of the year," Goble said.
With Kim sidelined and All-American Hailey Davis graduating, last year was a down year for the program. The Bears finished sixth at the Big 12 Championship and failed to make an NCAA regional for the first time in Goble's five years at Baylor.
"If you coach long enough and you're around college athletics long enough, you're going to have a year like we had last year," Goble said. "Obviously, I was disappointed and it was tough to deal with on a bunch of different levels. . . . But, I'm a big believer in what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Last year was tough, and it was tough for everybody, but I think we knew we were better than that. We were always confident we were going to come back and have a good year this year."
The roster went through a complete makeover with Goble bringing in three freshmen and Lee, a transfer from USC. Lee won the individual title at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown in October, tied Vesga for medalist honors at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic in February and posted four other top-10 finishes.
"I'm just a lot more comfortable here," Lee said. "The switch in colleges definitely affected it the most, but I think just the comfort and the coaches and getting along with my team well have all come into play. . . . I've had the best year I've had in college golf so far, and it's just good to be playing well going into postseason."
Another key has been Kim returning to her form this spring, tying for 11th at the Bryan National Collegiate and eighth at the Ping/ASU Invitational at 2-under-par 214.
She said her struggles earlier in the year were a combination of physical and mental. After playing in just one tournament between her October 2015 surgery and the end of the 2016 summer, "we jumped into the fall season quickly."
"I think that factored into it, too, but then also just getting back into a tournament mindset," Kim said. "I'm happy with where my game is now. It felt good to get a couple under-par rounds in."
Baylor's been fairly consistent all year, with six top-four finishes in nine team tournaments. But, the one change that could make all the difference in postseason play is the addition of Tan to the lineup.
After not playing at all in the fall, she shot 24-over and tied for 80th at The Dickson Invitational and matched Kim in tying for fourth at 1-under 143 in a dual meet with New Mexico. In the team lineup for the first time, she tied for 26th at the Bryan Collegiate at 5-over 221 and then tied for 21st at the Ping/ASU Invitational at 2-over 218.
"Cheerie was struggling to break 80 in the fall, and three of her last six tournament rounds have been under-par," Goble said. "Honestly, I can't say that I've ever had a player that turned her game around that drastically in that short of time."
When she first came to Waco from Melbourne, Australia, in the fall, she had a tendency to over-analyze every shot, Goble said, "and she was literally shooting 85 almost every round."
Now, "she doesn't let a double bogey or a bad shot ruin her day, anymore."
"Before, she would over-analyze it and think, `Oh my gosh, I made a bad swing, so my golf swing must not be good.''' Goble said. "She's not doing that anymore. She's just kind of rolling with it and understanding that she's going to make bad swings and hit bad shots, but it doesn't mean she's a bad golfer or she's going to play badly.
"I think she's that little added surprise, the spark we needed to get us jump-started into postseason."
The Big 12 Championship will continue with 18-hole rounds on Saturday and Sunday, with live scoring available for all three rounds at www.golfstat.com.
WACO, Texas -- Baylor women's golf is the No. 1 seed at the 2017 Big 12 Championship, which runs Friday through Sunday at The Dominion Country Club in San Antonio, Texas. It's the first time in program history the Lady Bears have been the league's No. 1 seed.
Baylor earned the top seed by being the highest-ranked Big 12 team at No. 17 in the latest Golfweek rankings. No. 18 Oklahoma State is the No. 2 seed, No. 20 Oklahoma is the No. 3 seed, No. 23 Texas is the No. 4 seed, No. 27 Texas Tech is the No. 5 seed, No. 35 TCU is the No. 6 seed and No. 47 Iowa State is the No. 7 seed. Kansas State and Kansas round out the field as the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds, respectively.
BU will be paired with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma for Friday's first round, and those teams will begin their rounds from the first tee starting at 8 a.m. CT. Second and third round tee times will be set in reverse order of standings with the leaders teeing off last.
Baylor is returning to the site of the 2015 Big 12 Championship, where the team claimed the first league title in school history. The Lady Bears have finished among the top three teams in four of five previous Big 12 Championships under sixth-year head coach Jay Goble. BU won in 2015, took second place in 2013, finished third in 2012 and 2014 and placed sixth last year.
The Baylor lineup features redshirt sophomore Dylan Kim, junior Amy Lee, sophomore Maria Vesga and freshmen Cheerie Tan and Fiona Liddell. Kim is the only returnee from the 2015 title team, and Vesga is the only returnee from the BU lineup at last year's Big 12 Championship.
BU has six top-four finishes in nine tournaments this season, including a title at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. The Lady Bears have a 130-30-1 combined head-to-head record on the season, including 11-3 against Big 12 Conference opponents. Baylor has faced all eight Big 12 opponents this season and is 1-1 vs. Oklahoma State, 1-0 vs. Oklahoma, 1-1 vs. Texas, 3-0 vs. Texas Tech, 0-1 vs. TCU, 2-0 vs. Iowa State, 2-0 vs. Kansas State and 1-0 vs. Kansas.
Live scoring for the Big 12 Championship is available at www.GolfStat.com. Follow @BaylorWGolf on Twitter and Facebook for updates throughout the season.