Solid First Day Puts UK Women’s Golf in Mix at SEC Championship


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – There’s truth in the notion you can’t win a tournament on the first day but you can lose it, especially in a field as talented and as tough as the Southeastern Conference Championship. 

In that regard, the Kentucky women’s golf team, which finds itself right in the middle of the pack after the first round of competition at the Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama, can consider its opening round Friday a huge success.

Behind a brilliant day from junior Grace Rose and solid rounds from veterans Isabelle Johansson and Jordan Chael, the Wildcats are squarely in the mix in arguably the nation’s best league tournament. After a first-round 291 (3-over par), UK is in eighth place in a tournament that features six teams ranked in the top 25 and three in the top 10.

Although Rose went low Friday with a 70 (2-under par), tied for her season best, the most important development of the day for Kentucky was its balance. Three Wildcats are in the top 30 and all four players are in the top 50. 

No. 20 Texas A&M leads a tightly bunched field at 6-under par. Only nine shots separate UK from first place.

“Our upperclassmen really led us on the course today,” head coach Golda Johansson Borst said. “Grace has found her stride this spring and it's fun to watch her play with such confidence right now. They all battled hard today, but Jordan had the biggest comeback after her rough start and it was great to see that from our senior. 

“This is the start we were looking for. They all just stayed calm and kept chipping away at the course. We have a lot of golf left and I like where we are sitting.” 

South Carolina’s Katelyn Dambaugh, Arkansas’ Alana Uriell and Vanderbilt’s Alexandra Farnsworth lead all players at 4-under par, only two shots in front of Rose, who is tied for seventh. 

The Wildcats are ahead of a pair of teams ranked in front of them in the Golfstat rankings, including No. 1 and defending SEC champion Alabama, an important position for a team fighting for a bid to the NCAA regionals. 

Kentucky, ranked No. 53 heading into this week, is in good position to return to the NCAA postseason for the sixth time in Borst’s seven seasons, but a repeat of Friday’s round over the weekend would go a long way in securing a bid.

Action will resume for the second round at 9 a.m. ET. The Wildcats’ first second-round tee time will be 12:36 p.m. ET. Fans can continue to follow along with live scoring at Golfstat.com.

UK’s 291 was its best score since carding a 291 in the second round of the UCF Challenge in early February. The Wildcats got there thanks to a big day from Rose.

The junior from Nicholasville, Kentucky, carded four birdies with just two bogeys Friday. She was as high as fourth place late in the day after a birdie on No. 16 before she dropped a shot at No. 17. It’s her fifth round of par or better this season and her second straight. 

Chael and Johansson are tied for 27th at 1-over par but took far different paths to get there. 

Johansson, Kentucky’s leader in stroke average and top-20 finishes, began the day in customarily strong fashion. She was 1-under par with a birdie and eight pars at the turn and among the leaders, but the back nine was a bit of a rollercoaster for the native of Sweden. She bogeyed three straight starting with hole No. 11, followed with back-to-back birdies on par 4s and then bogeyed No. 17.

Chael was nearly the opposite. She got off to a rough start with a 40 on the front nine that included a 4-over-par start in her first four holes. She bounced back after the turn with three birdies in a four-hole stretch and another birdie on No. 18 for a back-nine 33. Chael has recorded the third-most birdies in the tournament so far.

Freshmen Sarah Shipley and Josephine Chang, who teamed up to win a local qualifier Monday and advance to the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship, took their positive momentum from earlier in the week with decent showings in their first career postseason action.

Shipley recorded just three bogeys on the day but was unable to card a birdie. She’s in a tie for 44th at 3-over par. Chang is in a tie for 65th at 6-over par. 

Now in its 37th season, the SEC Championship is being played at the Greystone Golf & Country Club’s Legacy Course, a par 72 that plays at 6,202 yards. The Legacy Course is carved naturally from a visually dramatic landscape of placid lakes, meandering streams and the undulation of Alabama's Appalachian foothills. Designed by world-famous architect Rees Jones, each hole is an inviting yet demanding contest. The Zoysia fairways and Bent Grass greens found at Legacy provide golfers with surfaces that are both challenging and rewarding.

Kentucky has finished as high as second in the SEC Championship but has never won it. The Wildcats’ highest finish in the Borst era is fifth.

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