MELBOURNE, Fla. – Three fall tournaments may not seem like much, but the advantage, in LSU head coach Garrett Runion’s eyes, came in being able to normalize more quickly this spring. After the end of the Moon Golf Invitational on Tuesday, he pointed to his mask and referenced the team van.
LSU had already scrambled through COVID procedures in fall tournaments that not every team got to play.
“Each year, the team is slightly different, the van rides, the hotels slightly different,” Runion said. “We already went through that, so we came out kind of focusing more on golf than focusing on our masks and other stuff.
“We knew what it was like where some of the ACC teams hadn’t. It was a little advantage for sure.”
This week’s Moon Golf Invitational at Duran Golf Club in Melbourne, Florida, was a spring debut for many teams. South Carolina threatened to pull away in the final round but LSU, trailing by 10 to start the day, cut the winning margin to six shots.
“We had the lowest round of the day,” Runion noted of LSU’s runner-up finish, “which I think is something to be proud of and something to build off this spring.”
A year ago, freshmen dominated a shortened college golf season. When the season abruptly ended in March because of COVID, six of the top 10 players in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings were freshmen.
Near the top of that list? LSU’s Ingrid Lindblad at No. 2 (right behind Arizona freshman Vivian Hou). She won twice and finished outside the top 25 in only one tournament start.
Runion calls Lindblad the Tigers’ Joe Burrow.
“She puts up crazy good numbers and has that wave-like effect of pulling people with her,” Runion said. “Her work ethic and her inner desire to be good is just an attraction. She’s not going to get in your face or anything but she’ll kind of give you a look if you’re slacking a little bit and you can’t help but want to work harder and keep up with her. So anytime you have somebody like that … it’s always a good thing.”
Lindblad finished ninth individually at Moon Golf, the third-best finish of any LSU player. She was still 4 under despite an opening round of 73.
LSU climbed the leaderboard on the shoulders of a different sophomore. Latanna Stone, in the Tigers’ anchor spot after opening rounds of 68-69, went head-to-head with South Carolina’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard in the final round.
At No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Roussin-Bouchard was the highest-ranked player in the field. She didn’t make a bogey in her first 45 holes at Duran. But as she slowed in the final round, Stone did her best to catch up.
“It was actually a lot of fun. I feel like I played really well. I don’t really think I could have done really better, just get the putts in the hole,” Stone said. “She was awesome to play with – fun to learn from her. She’s No. 4 in the world, really cool experience.”
Ultimately, Stone came up four shots short of the individual title, which Roussin-Bouchard bagged at 13 under. Like her team, Stone won the day with a closing 70 to Roussin-Bouchard’s 73.
As more LSU players, like Stone, break out, the Tigers look tougher and tougher. When Stone, who debuted in the women’s golf world as a 10-year-old at the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur, arrived in Baton Rouge, she was ranked in the 700s in the WAGR. Now she’s No. 123. Despite being second on the team in scoring average, Stone’s freshman season was largely overshadowed by Lindblad’s.
To make a lesson out of that, Runion tapped an experience as a former assistant to LSU’s men’s team. Five years ago, Sam Burns, now on the PGA Tour, largely overshadowed the first half of Luis Gagne’s college career before Burns went pro after two seasons in Baton Rouge. Gagne played all four years, was a three-time All-American and compiled the second-lowest career scoring average in program history. Sometimes it’s easier to grind out of the spotlight.
“I know Ingrid is working to not let you catch her, and you’re working to catch her,” Runion told Stone.
Stone won the Orlando International Women’s Amateur to start the year. After a runner-up finish in LSU’s first spring start, she’s only lost to one player in two tournaments, and that player is No. 4 in the world.
There’s something to be said, in Stone’s mind, for just not being a freshman anymore, too.
“My golf game has evolved for the better,” she said. “I got to learn, especially working out – working out is key and my practice, we do a bunch of different things and stuff you normally wouldn’t do at home and you’re with a team environment.”
Team encompasses all of LSU golf, not just the women. LSU’s men just finished fourth at the Florida Gators Invitational, their spring debut. Eyeballs are going in both directions when it comes to competition and support.
“They don’t want to get beat by us and we don’t want them to beat us,” Runion said, “so it’s iron sharpening iron.”