MELBOURNE, Fla. – So early in the college golf season, Kalen Anderson was looking for hints of what’s to come out of a deeply experienced South Carolina squad.
The Gamecocks started the final round of the Moon Golf Invitational with a 10-shot lead at 27 under. They were 30 deep midway through the back nine after counting three birdies on the par-5 15th. They gave those back and then some at the par-4 18th, a hole bordered on the left by water and on the right by sand.
Such a lead allows for a few hiccups.
At the top of the South Carolina lineup, Pauline Roussin-Bouchard was in a head-to-head battle with LSU sophomore Latanna Stone. Roussin-Bouchard hadn’t made a bogey in 45 holes, but she made two at Nos. 10 and 11. Engaged in a horserace with Stone, and with foursomes contributing to a slower pace, Roussin-Bouchard struggled to keep her head on.
Scores: Moon Golf Invitational
For Roussin-Bouchard, even a closing 1-over 73 – which backed up rounds of 63-67 – wasn’t enough to drop her out of the top spot. She edged Stone by three shots for the third individual title of her college career.
“Today was a bit more frustrating than the two other days,” she said. “I struggled with my putting and I was on the edge of getting impatient and losing myself in that so I tried to just stay focused and stay in my bubble. . . . If I can’t have the satisfaction I need personally, then what should I do for the team? And what does the team need right now in terms of score, in terms of birdies?”
South Carolina didn’t even count Roussin-Bouchard’s closing 73 and still was 3 under in the final round, 24 under for the tournament and six shots ahead of runner-up LSU. The back of the lineup showed the kind of consistency necessary when the big gun stops firing.
“To watch the others just step up in that situation was exactly what I was looking for,” Anderson said. “That’s what’s really going to carry us through, I think, late in the spring.”
More than half the 18-team Moon Golf field sat out the fall season because of COVID. South Carolina, being in the SEC, got in three events in the first half of the year. Experience factors in that way, but also in what players bring to the table.
Anderson started three fifth-year seniors in her five-woman Moon Golf lineup. Roussin-Bouchard is a sophomore with loads of experience on the French National Team and as the No. 4 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Only Ana Pelaez, a fifth-year from Spain, didn’t compete with the team in the fall, opting instead to remain at home. It freed up a spot in the lineup for freshman Paula Kirner to make all three fall starts and now, Pelaez’s big personality is a key piece of the puzzle to have back in place.
“It gives us a lot of firepower and depth,” Anderson said.
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When the Gamecocks climbed in the team van with their trophies at the end of a windy three days in Central Florida, the volume on the stereo went up so high the music was audible several feet away. Anderson says the culture within this squad is one of the closest among teams she’s coached when it comes to balancing support with competition.
“We all live in three different apartments but right next to each other,” Roussin-Bouchard said. “It’s kind of, open doors. You want to go to someone else’s apartment? Just go in.”
Now whose mantel gets the Moon Golf hardware?