Commodore Golfers Shine for Locals (As appeared in the Flagship)

For the last year or two, many of us have read or heard about the tremendous progress being made by Vanderbilt's men's and women's golf teams.

A few weeks ago, the Commodore men won the Navy Invitational in a 27-team field. Last year the women were ranked in the Top 20 much of the season. Brandt Snedeker had a sizzling round at a tournament. Meredith Ward or Nicki Cutler did something special at this event.

But until mid-September, all the events were far from Music City. That changed with the inaugural Mason Rudolph Championship at Vanderbilt's own Legends Club of Tennessee.

Even last-minute transportation complications couldn't keep 14 excellent women's teams and 12 men's teams from making their way to the beautiful Franklin course for the only tournament in the nation that could run both a men's and women's championship simultaneously.

With Mother Nature cooperating beautifully, the scores were low and the play was excellent.

People are still talking about the women's team battle between long-time power Ohio State, rated No. 14 in the year's first poll, and the Commodores, rated 16th, who distanced themselves from the field after the second round.

Vanderbilt, paced by Cutler's school record 68, broke its own team record by eight shots in firing a four-under par composite score to edge ahead of the Buckeyes after 36 holes.

"One of our team goals this year was to shoot under par as a team for a round," Coach Martha Freitag explains. "It's a good thing we set some very aggressive goals because we accomplished this one on the first day of our season."

Senior Meredith Ward, one of the few seniors on this youthful team, recalled the "old days" of just three years ago.

"When I was a freshmen I hoped we would become competitive," the Crystal Lake, Ill., product says. "We have come so far in three years. Mallory Crosland (former teammate) called and I was telling her how different things are than just two years ago. We have so much potential and will only get better from here."

"Annie Kirkland and I were talking about our freshmen year," Ward continues. "We would have been ecstatic to have a day when everyone broke 80. We broke 300 once in Memphis and you would have thought we had won the NCAA championship. It's different now. Each year I can see an increase in the amount of work I've done. We have people pushing us. We always have four strong scores. We have depth. We have 10 players instead of six. I know if my play slips there is someone waiting for a chance."

Cutler, just a junior, exploded on the scene last year and is one of the country's top collegians. The easy-going Coloradoan knows there are great possibilities.

"We have good upperclassmen leadership and one thing we are talking about right now is that we can raise our expectations," Cutler says. "We have a more complete team. The work we're going to do on a daily basis is going to be the thing. When we go to a tournament, we're going to play it one shot at a time. If we do that, we'll play the way we want to play.

It's very fun to be on a competitive team; one that on a given day is as good as anybody else in the country. Now we just have to go out there and do it." It's not just the girls who want to have fun, to borrow a pop music phrase. The Commodore men are mixing a bit of the old with a lot of the new and the results are also obvious.

Nashville junior Brandt Snedeker has already put in some torrid rounds and he's off to a swift start this fall. He struggled to a 40 over the front side but came back with a 33 on the back for a mediocre 73, then followed up with 66-67 to place (third) in the Rudolph Championships.

"My last two rounds were pretty good," Snedeker under-stated. "I got off to a rough start and it ticked me off but the rest of the tourney I was ok. I feel I left some shots out there. I played the last the last round almost mistake free but I had some bad breaks -- a few putts lip out -- or it would have been a whole lot better."

Snedeker's running mate in the high octane world of sub-par has been Mark Donnell, a freshman from Mobile who was one of the nation's top three junior golfers a year ago. Donnell has been sub-par in both tournaments to date.

"It's different on the college level but about what I expected," Donnell says. "There are a lot more good golfers in every tournament. Everyone here can play. I was ready for that. Playing 36 holes is pretty tough. You don't even stop - it's like one giant round. Now the good thing about that is that if you are playing well you maintain your momentum. I had that kind of day Monday (69-67). It can work both ways. If you are struggling for 10 hours, that would be tough. If you are in good shape, you can handle 36 straight holes.

Donnell describes his game in this manner:

"I'm pretty good at a lot of things but not particularly great at any one thing. I am pretty scrappy Hit the ball pretty good a lot of the time and make putts when I need to. But I think if someone were to watch me they wouldn't be overly impressed with any one part of my game."

With so much youthful talent, both Ward and Snedeker see one of their roles as that of a mentor.

"I try to help freshmen out as I can," Snedeker says. "College golf is more of a grind than junior golf. You play 36 holes on the first day, you have to get used to that. You also have to remember you are not playing for yourself but for your team, so every shot counts. There is more pressure in a team format. I try to show them what's going on and tell them to go out and have fun. We need them to play well and it's obviously a very talented group."

Ward, who plans to attend the WPGA Futures Tour Qualifying School in November, has a slightly different point of view.

"The freshmen have to find out a lot of things for themselves," she says. "It's a matter of feeling comfortable with yourself. It takes awhile to feel a balance between your academics, your social life and your athletics. I think almost every freshman goes through a period where they wonder 'why am I here?' It's a matter of finding your niche. These freshmen are working hard, hitting the books, this is a good class."

All in all, it was hard to leave the Legends Club and not be excited about both the present and the future of Vanderbilt golf.

Certainly not after hearing Ward mention that a 10-under par team round is one of the women's goals.

"We don't set goals that are unreachable," says Ward matter of factly.

And Donnelly's comments also are inspiring.

"I liked the direction the program was moving in, which made me come here in the end," he says. "With Press McPhaul coming in, it looked like we were going to have a pretty good recruiting class. Everything looks like it's getting better. I wanted to be part of that.

"We have two more years with our team pretty much intact," Donnelly continues. "We'll start getting our feet wet here and get used to college golf. We think we have good talent, we need to put it together on the same day. We've going to surprise some people and I can't wait."


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