Cal’s organization, mental toughness key in long year

Despite never winning an NCAA title, Cal women’s golf coach Nancy McDaniel believes her team is capable of winning an NCAA Championship this year.

In their first two tournaments, the Bears finished fifth and 10th, but look to improve before the national championships in May.

“This is a top 10 team,” McDaniel said. “Once you’re in the top 10, it’s really anybody’s game.”

As seniors, Pia Halbig and Andrea Waters led the Bears to a 12th place finish in last year’s NCAA Championships. Halbig leaves an obvious hole in terms of leadership and scoring.

Senior Daniela Holmqvist has stepped up after a stellar summer of golf. Holmqvist won a small men’s tournament, as well as competing in many amateur tournaments.

Along with Holmqvist, Emily Childs and Joanne Lee are key seniors who look to fill the void.

The team has the luxury of having three reserve players, all of whom gain much experience and provide a safety net in case of injuries.

“I think it shows how deep we are as a team, to have eight players, and only travel with five,” McDaniel said.

This depth is something McDaniel looks to use to her advantage in coming tournaments. She holds her players accountable for their own progress, letting the scores — not her personal feeling — determine who starts.

“The players are in complete control of who earns each spot on the roster,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel’s use of scores and performance to make the lineup allows for the whole team to have a chance at playing, and also ensures that players will keep circulating through the lineup during the course of the season.

The Bears’ schedule is set up so that all competitive tournaments are spread out through the course of the year. Even with this, in a sport that is always in season, much of the outcome depends on endurance, stamina and health at the end of the year.

While the NCAA Championships don’t roll around until May, Cal knows that its current matches count heavily for ranking, and knows it must improve in certain aspects of the game.

“Mental toughness,” McDaniel said. “The most important thing for us is to stay in the present. It really comes down to how organized we are and how much energy we have left in late April and early May.”

Staying in the zone may seem like an easy task, but both the players and the coaches know that, on the golf course, getting ahead of themselves can happen all too quickly.

“They’ve all had playing experience, that’s why they’re here,” McDaniel said. “They know how to play under pressure, but we want to get them organized.”

McDaniel wants the team to stay in the present, but she also acknowledges the tough road ahead, and more importantly, some key tournaments, such as the Pac 12/SEC Challenge next month in Knoxville, Tenn.

The team looks to respond positively after a 10th place finish at the Mason Rudolph Fall Preview, which was held at the Legends Club North Course, the site of this year’s NCAA Championships.

“We’re comfortable with the course,” McDaniel said. “When we’re back there, we’ll be confident we can compete.”