Women's Golf |
March 9, 2011
By Jeff Gentil
You may have noticed an International flair about the Bearcat women's golf team, and it is not by accident. Since 2009, head coach Janet Carl has made a conscious effort to add some foreign flavor to her golf program and the early returns are quite favorable.
On the current roster, there are four foreign-born players competing: senior Bambee Dela Paz from the Philippines, and sophomore Fredricka Winqvist, along with freshmen Andrea Malek and Olivia Dose from Sweden. Dela Paz, Malek, and Dose comprise the top three scorers and have boosted the program in the competitive ranks.
Naturally, convincing foreign players to come to a different country to play golf is a daunting process. Finding such players is difficult as well. Aside from the obvious language barriers and homesickness, there is learning a new culture, new surroundings, struggles with fitting in, and to top it all off the expectation of competing at a high level. It takes a special person with tremendous drive to expose one's self to such pressure.
"In 2009, I started travelling overseas in search of players," Carl said. "I knew the trend was going toward international players. I asked my friend and mentor Linda Vollstedt (head women's golf coach at Arizona State for 21 years) to give me some advice on how to improve the program and she suggested I start looking internationally and specifically at a country where Cincinnati is warmer."
Enter Sweden, whose average temperature even in July is just 70 degrees. In the spring and fall when it is college golf season, their average temperatures are in the mid-30s and 40s.
"With our weather (being warmer) some of the (colder climate) players recognize we can play earlier. And when you consider the golf room we have where we can hit balls all day long and now with the bubble we can chip, they see the facilities we have and know we have all the pieces together."
"I wanted to come to a place like Cincinnati that was similar to home (weather-wise)," Dose said. "I wanted the change in seasons. I am used to not being able to practice in the winter back home so it's the same here."
There are several other draws for foreign players to come to the United States and specifically the University of Cincinnati.
"International players are looking for an opportunity to play golf in college," Carl said. "There is no high school golf in most countries. And they are also drawn to the academic reputation of UC, which is very important as well."
"I came to get an education and to be able to play golf," Dose said. "It was the best choice for me because (being academically minded) I can also focus on my studies (as well as play golf)."
So in the great big world we live in, how is it possible to find such players who are good enough and willing to leave their homes to travel to a foreign land?
"My first two (foreign) players - Bambee Dela Paz and Kate Moore (Australia) - came to me (through mutual friends)," Carl said. "Andrea and Olivia were recruited off the Swedish National team. In May of 2009, I went to observe them play in Sweden. I think the fact that I had taken the time to watch them play in person really got them thinking about the program."
While there had been communications back and forth via email and phone calls, the visit to Sweden was a big factor, according to Dose.
"It was one of the main reasons (she and Malek came to UC)," she said. "She seemed very interested and the fact that she came such a long way to see us meant a lot."
There is a slight advantage in having some foreign golfers on the roster.
"While they don't have much of a team concept, they have deep tournament experience, perhaps more than American players," Carl said. "There is a different way of thinking, too. U.S. kids are more of driving ranges and video cameras and international players have a different thought process. They are taught at an early age to think outside the box. Their course management is a little different. They are taught different ways of thinking their way around the golf course."
Dose admitted there was no team golf in Sweden, but that she is enjoying the new wrinkle.
"I really like team golf," she said. "It is an individual sport, yes, but you can cheer for your teammates and they can root for you."
Some of the "outside the box" techniques are starting to pay dividends not only for the players, but for the team as well.
"In the fall, Olivia had her first sub-par round of 70 (at the FIU Pat Bradley Invitational) and in the spring she shot a 69 (Sir Pizza Cards Challenge) which was her personal best," Carl said. "She doesn't even know how good she can be. She is very quiet and goes about her work. And she knows exactly what to work on.
"Andrea is still learning how much her emotions come into play. She can get out of control and when that happens it is hard to pull back. She was twice the national champion in Sweden for her age group. I think they both get frustrated at times because they want to accomplish a lot. They want it all to happen today. They just need to focus on the process and not always the results."
Still, with frustration and occasional lack of confidence from the golf course carrying over, it is quite natural for anyone to become homesick being thousands of miles away from home. But with UC's many international student-athletes and advancement of technology, it is becoming better and better for all involved.
"There are certainly cultural differences," Dose said. "Definitely the food; how Americans eat. Back home I could walk everywhere while here I need a car to get places. I feel trapped sometimes, but I'm here to learn. I came here for a new experience and I will adjust."
"(With Olivia and Andrea) the newness can wear off, but they met a track runner who is from Sweden so occasionally they get together and speak in Swedish and can talk about some of their problems," Carl said. "And with Skype, they can sit on their computers and talk with home. It's really amazing.
"I think they are getting to the point where they are comfortable talking with more people. At first they were shy, but they see their teammates are willing to help. They are getting into a routine. They feel they can be successful and I think every year they are going to be more comfortable and I think that also helps in building confidence. They sense while they are at UC, it is a total team. UC wants them to be successful."