LSU women’s golfers were on the rise when season was cancelled

LSU women’s golf program hadn’t reached NCAA tournament in five seasons.

This year’s Tigers appeared to be on their way toward ending that drought, having won three tournaments and twice finishing second before the promising 2019-20 regular season was cancelled March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The bottom line is that our girls were not happy,” LSU second-year women’s golf coach Garrett Runion said. “They were mad. They knew we had a pretty good team and were trending in the right direction.”

The infusion of talented freshmen Ingrid Lindblad and Latanna Stone, along with an experienced nucleus, combined to help lead LSU to regular-season titles in consecutive weeks in the fall at Old Dominion’s Princess Anne Invitational and Mississippi State’s Magnolia Invitational. It represented the first back-to-back titles for the program since the 1996-97 season.

The Tigers added another team championship March 1, defeating host Florida State by 14 strokes to win the FSU Match-Up with Lindblad leading the way with an individual title.

LSU was scheduled to conclude the spring portion of its schedule with a trip to Athens, Ga. (March 21-22) and hosting its Tiger Golf Classic (April 4-5) with both events serving as a precursor to the Southeastern Conference championship in Birmingham, Ala. (April 15-17) and NCAA Regional (May 11-13).

The NCAA tournament was set May 22-27 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

LSU, which began the season unranked, concluded the season No. 12 by GolfWeek.

“I tried to explain it somebody that it’s almost like football season and the season they had and telling them after the Arkansas game that their season was over,” Runion said. “That’s kind of what it was like. The whole year we talked about how we wanted to be better at the end than we were at the beginning. We were slowly gaining momentum and just got the rug pulled out at the end.”

One of the driving forces for this year’s team took place a year ago when LSU was unable to get out of a difficult regional assignment at Michigan State and qualify for the NCAA tournament.

With the top six teams advancing to the NCAAs, the Tigers shot 34-over for 10th place or 15 shots behind sixth-place Indiana.

“If we would have just played alright, we would have made it,” Runion said.

Runion added a pair of highly regarded freshmen in Lindblad of Halmstad, Sweden and Stone of Riverview, Fla., along with junior college signee Kiana Oshiro of Central Point, Ore. to join forces with returning players Kendall Griffin (junior), Monica Dibildox (Sr.), Alden Wallace (So.) and Presley Baggett (So.).

“We knew we were going to be a lot better than last year,” Runion said. “Anytime you have freshmen come in, you don’t know how they’re going to adjust and all that goes into it. I knew the new girls would make an impact. We just didn’t know they would have this big of an impact. It definitely exceeded my expectations.”

Lindblad won a pair of tournaments and set a school record with a 70.33 stroke average. She wound up ranked ninth nationally and is one of 10 finalists for the ANNIKA Award given annually to the nation’s top golfer.

Runion, who referred to Lindblad as the team’s “Joe Burrow” to indicate her value to LSU’s program, believes she will return to school and complete her eligibility.

“She’s given no indication of leaving early,” he said of Lindblad. “A degree’s important to her and grades are important.”

Last fall, Lindblad led a charge of three players finishing in the Top 10, paving the way for LSU to gain a share with Virginia Tech of the Princess Anne Invitational with a team total of 843.

Lindblad finished fourth at 4-under, Stone 8th at 1-under and Griffin 9th at even par.

A week later LSU was up to the task of winning another tournament, holding off host Mississippi State by four strokes at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, Miss.

With a score of 10-under 206, Lindblad sat atop the leaderboard followed by Oshiro, who shot 6-under 210 and tied for third.

By that time, LSU had cracked the national rankings for the first time at No. 19. The Tigers had concluded the previous season ranked No. 51, Runion said.

LSU concluded the fall (Nov. 3) with a runner-up finish in the Battle at the Beach in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico and carried the momentum of a strong fall performance into the start of the spring, returning to Mexico to compete in the IJCA Collegiate Invitational.

The Tigers were second against a very competitive field (Virginia won at 8-under) with a 6-under 858 – the 11th best score in school history – and Lindblad added a second-place showing to her growing resume’ with a 9-under, 207.

“The first spring tournament in Mexico felt like the NCAA,” Runion said. “There were three teams in the Top 10 and every team, except one, was inside the Top 50. We had a chance to win and lost by two strokes and didn’t feel like we played our best couple of rounds. I felt like we had a pretty strong team.”

LSU built a big lead in the first round of the Florida State Match-Up and wound up defeating the host Seminoles by 14 strokes with a 22-over, 886.

Lindblad (-4 under, 212) was the only LSU player under par which resulted in her second championship of the season. The Tigers wound up with five players in the top 18.

The Tigers’ final match (a 10th place finish at 45-over, 897) took place in the prestigious Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Hilton Head Island, S.C. with tournament champion Wake Forest leading a competitive field with 17 ranked teams participating.

Stone, who topped LSU with a tie for 20th place at 8-over, finished second to Lindblad for the season in stroke average on the team (72.56) followed by Griffin (73.86).

Runion is already looking past the disappointing end of this season and pointing toward the future. He believes his roster will be more competitive with the addition of signees Carla Tejedo Mulet, high school senior from Spain (ranked in the Top 50 in the world) and Jessica Bailey, the No. 6 ranked junior college player from Daytona (Fla.) State College.

“The returners wanted to get back to nationals, it’s frustrating but it is, what it is,” Runion said. “One-and-a-half years ago we were almost 70th in country and now 12th. That doesn’t happen a lot. It was fun to be a part of.”

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