Top 10 JUDolphins Moments of 2013-14: #7
Top 10 JUDolphins Moments of 2013-14: #7

A final round 66 by Jessica Welch – the best round in program history – sparked a come-from behind victory for the women’s golf team at the Cincinnati Spring Invitational and gave the Dolphins their first tournament title since 2006-07.

For years, Jacksonville women’s golf has been a sleeping giant in the Atlantic Sun. The new practice range and putting greens on campus just add to the advantages of a program that enjoys nearly year-round weather conducive to playing the game, as well as the access the program has to top courses in the area such as the TPC at Sawgrass. In her second year in charge of the team, Head Coach Jen Borocz may have unlocked some of that potential.

After a quiet fall season in which the team defeated North Florida head-to-head in the Hughes Cup but finished no higher than seventh in any event, the Dolphins began the spring by hosting a tournament at the Amelia National Golf Club. In the second round, rounds of 69 from Sabrina Rumbaugh and 70 from Jessica Welch lifted Jacksonville to a team score of three-under par 285, the lowest 18-hole score in program history. It was a glimpse at what the team could do, but what the Dolphins hadn’t done up to that point was string together three solid rounds in a row.

That changed when the team traveled to Crystal River, Fla. for the Cincinnati Spring Invitational. There, Jacksonville joined 13 other teams at a three-day tournament that would follow the format the Dolphins would soon face at the Atlantic Sun Championship. Rather than golfing 36 holes in a single day before coming back for 18 holes the next, the tournament was spread out with the teams playing just 18 holes each day. It lifted the physical burden of playing consecutive rounds, but also allowed for shifts in weather conditions and took away the rhythm that it’s possible to fall into when golfing rounds back-to-back.

After arriving on the Gulf Coast of Florida and getting a look at the course in the practice round, the JU team was confident in its outlook entering the first day.

“I knew that if we played well that we had a chance to win, but the course was very tight,” said Borocz. “You had to hit the ball straight and really place it on a lot of holes.”

The first round wouldn’t go exactly according to plan. Welch and Natalie Schmett ended with the best two rounds of the day for the Dolphins, each shooting a 75. When the dust had settled, Jacksonville was tied with Seton Hall for third place with a score of 308. Two other Florida schools – Lynn (303) and Seminole State (306) – occupied the top two spots.

The second day is when Jacksonville began to assert itself. The Dolphins fired a 293 to pull into second place by themselves, eight strokes clear of Memphis in third place and only three shots back of Lynn. It was once again Welch who led the way for JU.

“The second day was kind of different because I had really, really good holes and really, really bad holes,” said Welch. “I started out par, birdie, birdie, then I bogeyed the fourth hole and then I eagled the fifth hole with a pitching wedge from 100 yards out. I sort of went back and forth between some holes where I would birdie but then I’d give it back by not getting up and down or missing a short putt.”

Despite those frustrations, the junior’s round of 70 was the lowest of any individual in the field and pulled her into a three-way tie atop the individual standings at one-over par for the tournament. The solid day of play from all the Dolphins ensured that they would be paired with Lynn on Sunday. For Welch, that meant her last 18 holes would be against one of the two players she was tied with on the leaderboard.

Starting the final round on No. 1, Welch led off for the Dolphins, but her round didn’t get off to the best start.

“I missed the first two greens and had to scramble, but I hit a good 8-iron on No. 3 to about 10 feet, only I left the putt short and that bothered me,” said Welch. “So No. 4 was a short par-5 and I left myself a birdie putt of about the same distance and I made it, and that really got my confidence up on my putting stroke.”

Beginning with the birdie on No. 4, Welch caught fire. She ended the front nine with a score of 32, four strokes under par at that point on her round and well in front of the two players she began the day tied with. With her top player cruising, Borocz was able to pick her spots to help out on the course.

“The strategy was just to be on the par-three holes as the girls came through,” she said. “I was able to be there for each player to help with the yardage and to pick their club.”

Things weren’t just clicking for Welch; the other Dolphins were doing their part to overcome the deficit they had started the day with. Morgan Matchett shot an even-par 72. Schmett was on her way to a one-over 73. Rumbaugh ended her tournament with a three-over 75.

Welch continued her strong play on the back nine, carding a par on seven holes and birdieing the two par-fives coming in. By the time she was to No. 18, the question of whether she would win medalist honors had long since been settled. The only question was whether she would set a JU and personal record.

As a high schooler in Georgia, Welch had recorded a 66 in the state tournament on a par-71 course. Coming down the final hole, a par would give her a 66 on a par-72 track. A look for birdie just stayed out, but a tap-in par gave her a personal best score of six-under and broke the record she had set a year earlier when she fired a 67 in the opening round of the Atlantic Sun Championship. One key to her success started back with her work early on in the week.

“I was tweaking some things on my practice stroke with Coach Borocz during my practice round and it helped me make a lot more putts that weekend,” Welch noted.

Her score combined with the solid contributions of her teammates – four players from the team ended the tournament in the Top 15 – gave Jacksonville a team score of 286 on that Sunday, distancing the Dolphins from Lynn, who managed a 296. The 54-hole total of 887 shattered JU’s previous record of 894, and, more importantly, gave Jacksonville its first tournament title since the spring of 2007. Proving that the victory was no empty feat, Lynn later went on to win a second consecutive NCAA Division II national title.

The tournament win at the Cincinnati Spring Invitational was tangible evidence of what Borocz believes is being built here at Jacksonville. Three weeks later, the Dolphins would tie for fourth at the Atlantic Sun Championship, the highest finish by the program since 2005-06. All told, the 2013-14 team is responsible for five of the eight lowest rounds in school history.

“The cool thing about this team is that they rally around each other,” said Borocz. “They’ll constantly be seeing each other and talking to each other and cheering each other on.”

Welch returns in the fall to begin her senior season and a young core plus two talented freshmen will be added to the mix, making Jacksonville one of the more dangerous teams in the Atlantic Sun next season. If the pieces fall into place like it seems they could, JU will be looking to add some more hardware to its trophy case very soon.
Check in every Monday and Thursday for the next three weeks as we continue to countdown Jacksonville’s Top 10 moments of 2013-14!

#10: Men’s Basketball Dominates Dunk City
#9: Men’s Freshman/Novice 8+ Claim Dad Vail Crown
#8: Women’s Basketball Shocks Mercer on Senior Day at Swisher
#7: Women’s Golf Catches Fire to Win the Cincinnati Spring Invitational
#6: Coming June 30th
#5: Coming July 3rd
#4: Coming July 7th
#3: Coming July 10th
#2: Coming July 14th
#1: Coming July 17th