Monday Press Conference: Todd Oehrlein

Women's golf coach reviews season, looks ahead to Big Ten Championships

"We're obviously very excited and anxious to get started and looking forward to getting to Ann Arbor this weekend. This spring, a brief recap, we started out very strong, played about as well early this spring, played about as well as we have played in the two years since I've been here. Played a duel match early on in February against Minnesota and won that match.

"Went to Miami for an invitational, and 18 teams and played pretty well. We finished fourth out of 18 teams, and shot 299 our final round, which is, in my two years, it's the first round under 300 that we put up. And so we're really showing a lot of progress and playing very well, especially for that time of the year, for as early as it was.

"Went down to Texas A&M then, had very difficult conditions, an extremely strong field, and poor conditions, (and we) struggled a bit. But the golf course wasn't going to give up 300 for a team score, just because of the difficulty of the golf course and the wet and rainy conditions and a lot of high winds. (We) really didn't finish that poorly, but the girls, started to struggle a little bit, and their golf swings' timing got disrupted, and (they) kind of lost their step a little bit. And I think at that point our youth as much as anything kind of showed itself. It's a normal thing that you have to deal with in golf, especially spring golf, and, you know, as players mature and as they learn a little bit, they learn to deal with those types of conditions and learn how to be more consistent.

"We weren't happy with how we played at Indiana. We were disappointed in our finish there. Then I was very pleased with how the girls responded following that invitational though. We went to Purdue. The girls really refocused and went to Purdue and competed, and actually played pretty well, 311, 308, (we) didn't make a putt the whole tournament. Had we made a few putts, we'd probably shoot low 300s, around 300, and are right in the mix after the first day.

"The break in the weather we've had around here and how things have turned, we've really been able to focus and get back out, get outdoors finally here the last couple of weeks, spend a lot of time on our short games, putting, things that are directly related to scoring. It's made a difference in how we're playing right now.

"So heading into the Big Ten's, we're optimistic. We're very anxious to get going. The roster is going to be very young. The team we're taking consists of two juniors, three sophomores, and a true freshman, so the six players that are traveling are very young. It's been a learning experience all spring for them, but I've been pleased with how they've responded to that.

"Expectations going into the tournament ... the main expectation that I'm going to ask for and look for as a coach is just that they compete and show improvement, and that's going to be the main thing that we see. From a ranking standpoint within the conference, right now currently we're ranked middle of the pack in the league. If we go and play well, we can find ourselves in the mix and compete, but we do have to play well.

"More importantly, from my side, that I really want to see is how we continue to improve. As I mentioned, we are young and I've been pleased with that and I've seen that progress. I think that's really important, that each and every time we step on the golf course, whether it be practice or in a competitive situation, in a tournament, that we leave the golf course better players and that we continue to improve. And that's going to be our focus and we're anxious to get going. We head out on Wednesday, practice round on Thursday, 36 holes on Friday, and then 18 on Saturday and Sunday. So that's kind of how our spring has gone up to this point."

Todd, obviously Malinda Johnson was your go-to player a year ago. Has it taken awhile for the team to adjust not having her and then trying to find somebody to fill her role, which I'm sure is difficult?

" We don't have anybody that's capable from just a pure scoring standpoint to fill Malinda's role right now. Malinda set the school scoring average last year and really shattered it by almost two full shots. And this year we don't have anybody that's capable to come in and average 73 or 74 for us.

"But the girls, they've moved on and they've continued to focus on what they need to do this year. More of a key word for what we need to do this year has been balance and depth. I think they've done a pretty good job with that. We've had freshmen (that) have come in and contributed right away. Katie Elliott's done a tremendous job. A couple of juniors that we have with experience, Jackie Obermueller and Lindsay McMillan, have really kind of set the tempo and provided that kind of direction and leadership.

"Thus far we haven't had anybody go out and shoot a 68 or a 69 or a 70, and you knew Malinda was going to be right around 71, 72, somewhere in that range. So we need to have balance. We need to have all four girls play solid, and we need to get four good scores on the board each and every time.

"If you look back to the rounds when we did struggle, that's been the problem. We've had a couple of good scorers, but we weren't able to get four on the board, and so balance and depth is really kind of important. It's going to be a key word, a key factor going into this weekend."

Do some of your players, all of your players have that ability to make shoot a 68, 69?

"They do. They do, just not as consistently right now as what Malinda did. They do have that ability, especially some of the younger players, as they learn to get more consistent and more consistent with their scoring shots more than anything. Just 100 yards in the in, and just really gaining that control with their wedges and converting the opportunities when they're there.

"As I mentioned, what really what kind of held us back at Purdue from being right in that mix and competing in a very strong field was just missed opportunities, just not capitalizing. And that, as everybody knows, that's kind of what the game boils down to, is putting yourself in position and then capitalize on your scoring opportunities when they're there."

You mentioned consistency. Confidence too though, right?

"Without a doubt. Yeah, confidence for sure. That's improved over the year. That's built. The players definately struggled with that around the time when we went to Baylor and Indiana. They were frustrated with where they were. And, if you look at it from a statistical standpoint, what they were doing on the golf course, it literally boiled down to just missed opportunities. It wasn't a lack of ability or how they were striking the ball really as it was not capitalizing and compounding some mistakes. And so we worked through that, and we focused on those areas, and came out and showed improvement. And they're building again and they feel good about things going into this weekend."

Can you be more specific about Katie Elliott and how she has played in her freshman year?

"Katie's done a tremendous job for us this year as a freshman. She's been our low individual in a number of invites, and has really played in our top five. She's been one of two players that has played in our top five every event, and has jumped in and has been fairly consistent.

"She's been one of those three players that have kind of led the way for us this year and have been very consistent. The future's very bright for Katie. She works very hard at what she does, has a good mind for the game. She's very composed and very patient out on the golf course. And as she gets better in those areas, her scores are even going to drop further."

Are you feeling more comfortable with your position now? Obviously in your second season, but are you seeing progress being made with the program, and someday you can be right up there with an Ohio State competing for a Big Ten title?

"That's where we're headed, yeah. And I do feel comfortable with where I'm at right now. You know, I love the support. The focus is there. And that commitment is there. We just, we need to continue to improve. And we can get to that point. The conference is very strong in golf, as you mentioned. You pointed out Ohio State. They're down just a little bit this year, (but) still very strong. Last year they were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country.

"Michigan is a Top-20 team, Michigan State, Purdue ... if you compete in the league you compete on a level nationally where you're one of the top 20 programs, and ultimately you get yourself in the mix and you see how kids respond. I mean, players respond, and they get out there, and that's part of gaining that experience in a competitive situation, in a competitive environment. We're excited about that. We're building towards that. And the players have really dedicated themselves and committed themselves to our program."

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