The round began with a delay of almost an hour, but instead of agitation, added nervousness and becoming more water logged by the minute, the members of the Kansas women’s golf team found a way to turn the adversity into an advantage.
Sitting in the team van in Albuquerque, New Mexico while waiting out the weather, the Jayhawks “jammed out to music” that included 50 Cent, Nelly and other high-energy artists.
The impromptu dance party set the tone for what would become an historic day in Kansas golf. Here’s a look back at how third-year Kansas coach Lindsay Kuhle’s 2023-24 team set a school record with a final round score of 274 at the Dick McGuire Invitational during the second weekend of September.
Junior Jordan Rothman: “I don’t think you ever know what’s coming. Golf is such a hit and miss sport and you can work so hard and still have a bad day.”
Freshman Lyla Louderbaugh: “I think the time might’ve given some other people time to overthink the weather and how it would affect their game play. But we just kind of had fun with it and kept it loose and didn’t really think about it too much until we got out there.”
With the threat of more bad weather in the early afternoon, six Jayhawks and the rest of the 16-team field hit the course at UNM Championship Golf Course for a shotgun start, which put all of the golfers on the course at the same time. The Jayhawks started on consecutive holes, with sophomore Katie Ruge opening her round at the ninth hole and the rest of her teammates Jayhawks falling in line on the holes behind her.
While there was no real competitive advantage to playing that way, it did wind up paying off.
Jordan Rothman: “There was a lot of waving the wheat going on out there and we could see it. So, I think we all knew we were having a good round.”
Just as the 40,000 fans at Memorial Stadium after touchdowns, the KU golfers wave the wheat with their arms to celebrate every birdie they get. Sometimes their parents and other fans join in the fun, and on this historic day every Jayhawk got to participate in one of the school’s best-known traditions.
Even with the weather altering their morning, the Jayhawks’ stuck to their game plan for the round. Their goal is always to finish in the top 40% of the field. And there are also individual goals for top-five finishes that lead to exemptions for the next event.
Junior Johanna Ebner: "We always try not to overthink. It’s so important in golf to stay in the present and think shot by shot. So, that’s always my strategy.
Sophomore Katie Ruge: "I think everyone wants to shoot a low round, but if you have fun and don’t think about it too much, the scores will happen. It is hard not to think about the end result, but it’s so important to really soak up the moment because rounds like these are special.”
Junior Lily Hirst: “I think, for me, it was all about sticking to my process and doing everything I can to help the team out. I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, but I knew I needed a good score to help out and I think that competitive drive helped me a lot.”
After an opening-round 302, the Jayhawks improved significantly in Round 2, with a 284, but they were still in 12th place entering the third and final round.
By the end of their historic day, they had climbed all the way into second place, with their final-round 274 besting the previous school record by five strokes.
Three of the six golfers who helped set the record earlier this month also were on the squad that shot a 279 back in February to break a school record that had stood for six years up to that point.
Junior Lauren Clark was one of them, and her past experience made this most recent outing even more meaningful.
Junior Lauren Clark: “This was a harder course to break it on. The greens were fast. You could make a lot of birdies, but the pin placements were tough and you could also have some unfortunate things happen It took more to break the record here. It was four pretty solid rounds all the way through.”
Pepperdine won the tournament by 10 strokes. Kansas was the only other team under par for the event. But the Jayhawks knew their fate was sealed for a runner-up finish thanks to a superstition held by their head coach.
Jordan Rothman: “Coach Kuhle is very superstitious. Kind of crazy. She looks for tees on par-3s and she believes if she finds a tee that has not been broken then we’ll beat that school.”
Head coach Lindsay Kuhle: “It works, too. It’s a real thing.”
The Jayhawks’ record-setting round proved that in a round-about way. Kuhle found a still-in-tact tee from 14 of the 15 other schools in the field. The only one missing? Pepperdine.
At no point during the event were the Jayhawks hunting the record. They wanted to play well, of course. But they also wanted to think next-shot instead of big picture.
Even still, there were some signs along the way about what was to come.
Lauren Clark: On my first hole of the day (No. 6), I made a 39-footer for birdie. That obviously felt good and was a good way to start, and I just remember thinking, ‘Let’s go get another one.’”
Two holes later, at No. 8, Clark did, draining a 70-foot birdie putt. That was her favorite shot of the round. Ruge’s favorite shot of the round also came on the 8th hole, when she put a double-breaker monster of an 90-foot putt to within three feet.
Katie Ruge: “I was like, ‘Where’s that been all day?’”
Head coach Lindsay Kuhle: “No. 8 was good to us.”
Louderbaugh drained a 54-foot putt, junior Lilly Hirst knocked in a 30-foot putt and Rothman sank one from 51 feet on hole No. 6.
Jordan Rothman: “I think I laughed when it dropped.”
Lily Hirst: “I stood over it and I said, ‘I’m gonna hole this.’”
As a team, the Jayhawks finished the round with a strokes-gained number above five, which is pretty much unheard of at all levels of golf.
Ebner was the only member of the team whose favorite shot of the round came somewhere other than the putting green.
On her final hole (No. 15), she faced a tough shot from the fairway with the pin on the left side of the green and water to the left of that.
Johanna Ebner: “I was really hungry for birdies by that point and I just told myself to go for it. I hit an 8-iron to 12 feet and made the putt. It felt so good to finish the round with a birdie, especially after hitting that good shot. It was not a 51-foot putt or a 70-foot putt but making that 12-foot putt was still such a good feeling.”
All four of the scores that KU used in the final round finished in the top 17 of the individual standings — Jordan Rothman was tied for 10th (-2), Lauren Clark tied for 14th (-1) and Lily Hirst and Lyla Louderbaugh tied for 17th (+1).
Louderbaugh’s second-round 67 set a KU freshman single-round record and she followed it up with a 68 to help the Jayhawks make history.
Lyla Louderbaugh: “I had a lot of confidence going into the final round.”
Kuhle said the long putts that dropped and the killer instinct showed by her team in the final round was an indication that all of the Jayhawks were confident from start to finish.
She even had a hard time containing her excitement over what she was watching.
Jordan Rothman: “After six holes, watching Coach Kuhle, she was just out there smiling, standing up straight, she was just so stoked. I know Coach Kuhle’s reaction when we’re playing well. She’s smiling, she’ll come up and do our handshake, she’s all over it. So, I think after like six holes, I knew that we could be headed for something special.”
School record, though?
All of them in unison: “No. No.”
So, when did that thought first enter the picture?
Johanna Ebner: “Not until it was over. When I heard we broke another record, I was really, really excited, but, honestly, I was not surprised. Our team is getting better and better, and I just knew we were going to break the record soon.”
Jordan Rothman: “Yeah, you better get on it and write this one quick.”
Lyla Louderbaugh: “I was the first one to finish my round and Coach B whispered into my ear, ‘We just broke the school record.’ And I was like, ‘Nice.’”
Associate head coach Stephen Bidne: “I followed Lyla most of the day and I knew. With live scoring, somedays you refresh that page more than others, and it was cool. Every time I refreshed we just jumped up the leaderboard.”
Jordan Rothman: “I jumped on top of her [points to Louderbaugh]. One hundred percent.”
Rothman was the final Jayhawk on the course for the record-breaking day and she said her last hole was pretty stress free.
Tee shot down the middle to play it safe, a 9-iron to the green and an easy two-putt from there for par.
What she did not know until being interviewed for this story was that there was stress looming.
Head coach Lindsay Kuhle: There was some weather that was coming in and they said it was supposed to storm at 1:30 and we didn’t finish until like 2:20. I was kind of a little afraid that the round could be canceled because of how well we were playing. So I was looking a lot at the weather down the stretch.”
KU’s flight out of Albuquerque had already been delayed and Kuhle was starting to worry about their connecting flight home in Houston. But that fear was nothing compared to her concern that if just one golfer on one of the 15 other teams did not finish the round would not have counted.
Head coach Lindsay Kuhle: “It was starting to get darker and even if there were only two holes left but people had to leave because they had to make their flights, that whole round would’ve been canceled. So that was in the back of my mind. I was actually thinking OK we’re playing so well I just hope we can finish.”
Jordan Rothman: “That would’ve been awful.”
Instead, it became historic. And, according to those who were a part of it, this most recent milestone was just the beginning.
Jordan Rothman: “It’s still so early in the season and we’re super-excited about it, but it’s just back to work for the next one. We’re not done. We’re coming for more.”
The Jayhawks’ next chance to improve upon their own individual scores and the team record will come early next week, Sept. 25 and 26, when they travel to Monterey, California, for The Molly Invitational at Bayonet Golf Course.
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