Lady'Backs Begin Drive In Florida

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ranked as high as 18th by Golfstat.com, the Arkansas women's golf team is poised to make a splash as it begins the spring schedule with the Central District Invitational in Parrish, Fla., on Monday and Tuesday.

"Thanks to John Tyson and Fred Smith and our facilities at the Blessings course, I feel we're as prepared as any team I've had," said third-year Arkansas coach Kelley Hester. "It's the first year we've had complete use of the facilities, and our girls feel ready."

Hester believes Arkansas should have an advantage over the northern teams - like Ohio State - it will see in Florida that have barely practiced outside.

"I think we've had a great winter," said Hester, noting Tuesday's 77-degree weather.

The Central District tournament is the only one this spring in which players will have to go 36 holes one day and 18 the next. That also should favor a very fit Arkansas team.

"We had our two-mile run on Tuesday, and everyone met her target time," Hester said. "Lina Axelsson led us at just over 14 minutes. We've also done a lot of weight work in the gym."

Hester called Lindsey Hinshaw of Missouri City, Texas, and the daughter of former UA football assistant Roger Hinshaw, "a gym rat who loves to lift weights."

Sarah Trew, a 5-foot-8 UA junior from Acworth, Ga., needs no further weight work.

"Sarah is one of the five longest hitters in women's collegiate golf," Hester said. "She may enter long-driving contests someday."

Trew hits even longer than Arkansas junior Amanda McCurdy, who at 5-1 and 115 pounds outdrove most of her opponents in the U.S. Women's Amateur while reaching the finals last summer. For her run in that prestigious event, McCurdy was honored by fans at a recent Lady'Backs women's basketball game.

"I wanted to do something to honor Amanda," Hester said. "Everyone likes some recognition."

McCurdy plays well in front of galleries, as does UA junior Courtney Mahon of Topeka, Kan. Those two players will lead a traveling team that also includes senior Gena Johnson of Hot Springs, freshman Stacy Lewis of The Woodlands, Texas, and Trew next week.

"It's been four months since we competed, so we're going to be rusty," Hester said. "But our girls didn't like the way we finished the fall -- only in one round at Tennessee did we play the way we're capable. We've set some goals for greens in regulation and putts."

Arkansas is one of six SEC teams ranked in the Top 25, but No. 14 LSU is the only other conference team that will compete in the Central District Invitational.

Hester hopes Arkansas' fitness level will pay off when the players have to walk 36 holes and carry their bags on Monday.

"We'll just throw a sandwich at them after 18 holes and they'll keep going," Hester said. "It turns golf into an endurance challenge. I don't really like the 36-18 format, but we always play better on the second 18 holes of a 36-hole day.

The Lady'Backs are generally ranked fifth among SEC schools in the various polls.

"If we finish fifth this year, that would tie our best SEC finish ever," Hester said.

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