#KWG Looks to Continue Momentum at Match Play Challenge

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As far as golf analogies go, the Kentucky women’s golf team piped a drive down the middle of the fairway and birdied the first hole in its first week of competition with junior Isabelle Johansson’s individual championship at the Minnesota Invitational. But much like the first hole in a round is only a fraction of an 18-hole journey, the first tournament of the season is just the start of UK’s 2016-17 goals.

The Wildcats hope to use the positive momentum Johansson and Co. generated at last week’s Minnesota Invitational and turn it into continued success at this week’s East & West Match Play Challenge in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

The tournament format is a different look for the Wildcats, but one that head coach Golda Johansson Borst is hoping will prepare her team for postseason play. The format, after all, mirrors the NCAA Championships, which the Wildcats ultimately hope to make in the spring.  

The eight teams (Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, UC Davis and Wisconsin) in the field will play 36 holes of stroke play Sunday to determine the team seeds. After the opening day of competition, the teams will compete in head-to-head match-play format. The top four teams, based on Sunday’s stroke play seeding, will advance to the championship bracket, while the remaining four will play in the consolation bracket. In addition, eight non-team individuals will compete in the stroke play and a separate match-play tournament. 

Playing in this tournament under this type of format was by design. 

“I'm glad we are getting right back on the road this week to Michigan,” Borst said. “This will be a different type of tournament for us since it involves match play and I am really looking forward to seeing our team compete in a head-to-head situation. Match play requires a different mindset and I think it's one that suits us. 

“I believe the team is hungry to get back after it after our finish in Minnesota last week so I'm confident that we will capitalize on that and play strong this weekend.”

The first set of matches will take place Monday, followed by the deciding championship rounds on Tuesday. Play begins Sunday at 9 a.m. ET with the first of Sunday’s two 18-hole stroke rounds. 

Live scoring will be available throughout the tournament at golfstat.com.

Borst will use the same five golfers that played in last week’s Minnesota Invitational with one slight change because of an additional individual. Freshman Josephine Chang will make her college debut and join Johansson, redshirt sophomore Anna Hack, senior Jordan Chael and redshirt junior Ale Walker in the team lineup, while freshman Sarah Shipley will play as an individual.

Johansson is coming off a breakthrough performance at the Minnesota Invitational where she tied for the individual title, the first of her career and Kentucky’s first since September 2013. The junior from Sala, Sweden, shot a career-low 68 in the final round to come from four shots behind and finish the tournament at 1-under par.

Kentucky’s 2015-16 season stroke leader rolled in a tournament-high 14 birdies, including six in the final round, to win the tournament. Johansson never recorded anything worse than a bogey in 54 holes at the Minnesota Invitational, which could fare well this weekend in the match-play format.

Hack’s ability to go low could also serve the Wildcats well in match play. The 2016 U.S. Women’s Open qualifier was actually ahead of Johansson and tied for the lead at the Minnesota Invitational after recording six birdies and an eagle through the first two rounds. She finished in a tie for 22nd, her third top-25 finish in her last four collegiate tournaments. 

Chael is coming off a solid 30th-place finish at the Minnesota Invitational while Walker will be appearing in her second straight tournament after missing nearly a year a half of college competition due to injury. 

Chang will make her Kentucky debut after a decorated high school career. A three-time First Team All-League selection out of Diamond Bar High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Chang led Diamond Bar to the 2014 California Interscholastic Federation-Women’s Southern California Golf Association girls’ state championship and finished as state runners-up in both 2012 and 2013.

The East & West Match Play Challenge is in its third season. Michigan and Wisconsin teamed up to host the event when the NCAA finals format altered in 2015 from straight stroke play to a match-play format. The idea was to give teams the experiences for postseason play.

Michigan and Wisconsin alternate in hosting the event. Radrick Farms Golf Course, Michigan’s home course, hosted the inaugural event in 2014. The course will play at 6,292 yards, par 72 this week. 

The Wildcats’ appearance at the East & West Match Play Challenge is their second tournament in a week’s span. UK completed its final round at the Minnesota Invitational on Tuesday in Minneapolis. 

For the latest on the Kentucky women’s golf team, follow the team on TwitterFacebook and Instagram, as well as on the web at UKathletics.com