Grizzly golfers close out season in Washington

MISSOULA — The Montana women’s golf team will wrap up the fall portion of its 2017-18 schedule early next week when the Grizzlies compete at the two-day Pat Lesser-Harbottle Invitational.

The 54-hole, 16-team tournament will be played on Monday and Tuesday at the Tacoma Country and Golf Club in Lakewood, Wash. Teams will play 36 holes on Monday, 18 on Tuesday.

Montana interim head coach Kris Nord will bring a team of seniors Hailey Hoagland and Kari Opatz, junior Baylee Barckley, sophomore Teigan Avery and freshman Faith D’Ortenzio.

This will mark the fourth consecutive fall the Grizzlies have competed at Seattle University’s tournament.

Hoagland, a Butte High grad, will be playing the course for the fourth time, Barckley for the third. Opatz and Avery both competed last fall.

“In talking with the kids, it’s a tight course with a lot of trees,” said Nord. “You’ve got to keep it in play or you can shoot some big scores. We’ll go out and see if we can put together a complete 54-hole tournament.

“This team has a ton of potential to go out and do really well in the team standings. Baylee, Hailey and Kari all have the ability to finish in the top 10 in any tournament they play. If we get those three clicking at the same time, we’re pretty solid.”

Montana opened its fall schedule placing fifth at the Battle at Old Works in Anaconda, with rounds of 300, 299 and 296. Barckley won the tournament at 2-under.

The Grizzlies didn’t approach those scores at the Loyola Invitational in Flossmoor, Ill., in tournament No. 2, but they had a better team finish, coming in third, on a very difficult course. Barckley tied for second.

Montana finished seventh at its most recent outing, the Wyoming Cowgirl Desert Intercollegiate in Palm Desert, Calif. Hoagland was the team’s top finisher in 12th.

Barckley, who is from Canyon Lake, Calif., an hour’s drive from the Classic Club, entered the tournament with a fall scoring average of 73.5. She shot rounds of 82, 81 and 78.

“After finishing top-two at our first two tournaments, her expectations were to be up there again, and I think she put a little extra pressure on herself,” said Nord.

“And she was in her backyard and had a lot of her family watching. That’s some additional pressure she didn’t face at Old Works or in Chicago. She really wanted to play well in front of her family. In golf you can try too hard, and she was trying too hard. That usually makes things worse in golf.”

Barckley still leads the team in scoring average for the fall at 75.78. Hoagland is sitting at 76.78, Opatz at 77.22. Avery, who has played at the first three tournaments, and D’Ortenzio, back in the lineup after missing the trip to California, have averages above 80.

“This tournament has a huge field, but everybody’s playing the course and playing themselves,” said Nord. “Those are the two opponents, managing the course and managing your decisions.

“If we can come in under 300, I’ll be happy. If things go real well, we could be in the low 290s. And if things don’t go well, we could end up in the 320s. There is a fine line between being confident and knowing where your ball is going and losing confidence and just trying to finish the round.”

It will be the earliest finish to the fall schedule for Montana since 2014. The hope for Nord is that the weather cooperates and allows his players a few more weeks of outdoor practice before the Grizzlies have to head inside to the Bill Ruegamer Indoor Golf Facility.

“We’ll try to stay outside as much as possible, because you’re a little limited indoors. We’d rather be hitting off grass. It’s more realistic,” Nord said. “I’m hoping the rest of October and early November are kind to us.”

And when the fall semester concludes, Nord’s time as golf coach will be done and he’ll return to coaching the men’s tennis team. By Jan. 1, Montana should have a new golf coach.

“It’s a great group of kids. They’ve been easy to work with,” said Nord. “I’ll be curious to see how the ladies feel at the end of our competitive phase and I get their input on how it’s gone. I know I’ve enjoyed it.”

— Montana Sports Information