There are risk-reward holes in golf, then there are risk-reward tournaments.
This week’s NCAA women’s golf regionals are the one time of the year when a fourth- or fifth-place finish is almost as good as finishing first.
Not to say the No. 7-ranked LSU Lady Tigers, who go into the NCAA West Regional on Thursday as the No. 2 seed behind reigning team champion UCLA, won’t be trying to win.
But if the Lady Tigers finish their three rounds at Colorado National Golf Club in Erie, Colo., right where they’re starting, it will be plenty good enough.
The top eight teams from each 24-team regional and top two individuals whose teams do not advance move on to the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, May 22-25 at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.
“If it came down to the last day and we were on the bubble, there are certain things I would do,” LSU coach Karen Bahnsen said. “But our goal is to give ourselves a chance to win it.
“It’s important to finish in the top three, because that helps you get into the right bracket when you get to the (NCAA) championship and play with the teams you want to play with. We want to win it — top three at worst.”
The Lady Tigers struggled to a disappointing tie for
sixth last month in the Southeastern Conference championships at the rugged Blessings Golf Course in Fayetteville, Ark.
The only bright spot was the play of Swedish freshman Madelene Sagstrom, who led the field early on the back nine during the final round and eventually finished fourth.
“You have to put it behind you and move forward,” Bahnsen said. “Their heads are in the right place. They came out (Wednesday) and played well and worked hard in the practice round.”
The Blessings and Colorado National present quite different challenges.
The Blessings course is threaded among tight, extremely hilly conditions. While Colorado National has the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, the course is more of a rolling, prairie-style links.
The biggest challenge is that at the course’s altitude, shots typically travel 10 percent farther.
“It is really beautiful,” said Bahnsen, who has LSU in its 18th NCAA regional in 20 years.
“While it’s open, you have to play smart. There are lot of undulations on the greens so you can’t get too greedy. I like the course.”
LSU will go with a lineup that includes Sagstrom and fellow All-SEC teammates Tessa Teachman, a senior, and sophomore Austin Ernst.
Ernst, who embarks on her first stop to trying to repeat as NCAA individual champion, goes into the regional the world’s No. 6-ranked women’s amateur player.
Also making the trip are senior Jacqueline Hedwall and sophomore Lindsay Gahm.
Meanwhile, the Tulane women’s golf team is in State College, Pa., for the NCAA East Regional at the Penn State Blue Course.
The Green Wave golfers are paired with teams from Texas and Washington.
This is the fourth straight NCAA regional appearance for Tulane in four seasons since the program was reinstated after Hurricane Katrina.
“We finished up final exams and everyone is rested and playing well right now,” Tulane coach Andrew Pratt said. “The important thing for us this week is to play our own game. We need to get off to a good start and follow it up with solid rounds on the second and third day.
“We need to be mentally tough and be prepared to grind these rounds out. Par is a very good score in postseason.”
Seniors Samantha Troyanovich, Stephanie Wagstaff and Ashley McKenney lead the way for the Green Wave, along with junior Maribel Lopez Porras and freshman Gemma Dryburgh.