Three weeks ago, Ole Miss coach Kory Henkes wasn’t sure if her team would even have a fall season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now the Rebels are gearing up for three tournaments, two of which will be televised live on Golf Channel. (The SEC announced that teams can compete in a maximum of three tournaments this semester beginning on Oct. 1.)
On Tuesday, the new Blessings Collegiate Invitational presented by Tyson Foods was announced. Arkansas will host all 14 SEC men’s and women’s teams Oct. 5-7 in a 54-hole stroke-play event.
SEC teams will then move to West Point, Mississippi, to compete in The Ally at Old Waverly, hosted by Mississippi State. The 54-hole tournament, named in honor of MSU star Ally McDonald Ewing, will take place Oct. 19-21.
With the Pac-12 and ACC conferences not competing this fall due to COVID-19, three SEC teams were invited to compete in the East Lake Cup Collegiate Match Play Championship, which is also be televised live on Golf Channel. South Carolina, Ole Miss and Florida will join Texas Oct. 26-28 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Wake Forest, Arizona State and Southern Cal were originally in the field. Golfstat rankings were used to fill out the field as the NCAA Championship was canceled last spring.
Those teams not in the East Lake field will round out the fall season in a third event Nov. 6-8 that has yet to be announced.
“For me, I feel like to keep our players motivated, having three events is amazing,” said Arkansas coach Shauna Taylor, “to build the team and to build a culture of connection.”
That connection, of course, doesn’t come as easily as most years given the social-distancing practices that are now in place. The Razorback team operates in three pods of three. They live together, practice together and share meals in those pods.
At the Blessings event, teams will play together as a fivesome during tournament rounds, just as they would a practice round. That format is the recommendation from the Women’s Golf Coaches Association for all fall tournaments.
Henkes has three international students coming in over the course of the next week. One freshman, Smilla Sonderby of Denmark, won’t be arriving until the spring because she couldn’t get a visa in time due to coronavirus closures.
South Carolina’s Pauline Roussin-Bouchard, currently No. 3 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, will head back to campus on Sept. 15 after the European Team Championships. Fellow Frenchwoman Mathilde Claisse heads back Sept. 21. Spain’s Ana Pelaez will be back in the spring. Freshman Kaiyuree Moodley is still in South Africa awaiting a visa.
Head coach Kalen Anderson said Moodley was handling it pretty well until her teammates received their gear for the semester.
“She’s having FOMO (fear of missing out) almost every day,” said Anderson. “She knows the time’s going to come.”
Moodley, like her teammates, started classes online Aug. 20.
Campus life in Columbia is vastly different these days. COVID-19 tests are administered to athletes each week. Players get takeaway from dining halls and training tables and stick to their small clusters. One golfer has already been quarantined due to contact tracing.
“I know my players are taking it very seriously,” said Anderson.