Written by JMU Athletics Communications Student Assistant Casey Henderson
HARRISONBURG, Va., March 29, 2012- Spring breaks, for college golf teams, often involve a trip for a week of practice, often in warmer weather. This spring break, James Madison Head Women's Golf Coach Paul Gooden took a 12-passenger van to Florida for two tournaments, the Hurricane Invitational and JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational. However, he left almost three days before the team even boarded the plane for Florida. He didn't carry one passenger, but instead packed the seats with tents, tee-markers, flagsticks and equipment as well as bags and clubs from each of his six golfers. Gooden wanted to be as prepared as possible for the upcoming 10 days, especially since JMU would host the JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational in Jacksonville at the end of the week.
For a school in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Jacksonville is a peculiar place to host. There is certainly no home advantage because of the obvious differences in the grasses and weather conditions. When Gooden first started hosting, the tournaments were local. And while the location was convenient, challenging competition was sparse. "We tried running some events here for a number of years, but we couldn't get quality teams," he explained.
When people think golf, they think south, so that's where Gooden looked for a host site. A few years ago, while visiting his brother in Florida, a member from the golf club where they played told him how much he'd love to run a women's event at the course. Gooden, who takes special pride and joy in running a tournament, went on to pursue hosting there.
JMU has now hosted the JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational for the past four years. It's a great trip for the Dukes: warm weather, top teams from around the country and publicity for the program. This year, with the Hurricane Invitational one week before in Miami, the ladies had the added bonus of getting some time at the beach. They got to spend Saturday before the opening round of the Hurricane Invitational on South Beach taking their minds off golf. The relaxing day was leverage for that first tournament that lay in the day ahead.
After finishing 11th at the Hurricane Invitational, the Dukes drove up to Jacksonville so start preparations for hosting in Jacksonville. And while they didn't have home course advantage, that doesn't mean they couldn't enjoy the luxuries of home life.
What makes the JMU/Eagle Landing Invitational especially unique is the support the schools receive from the golf club members. Any school can elect to have private housing, where families who live on the course open their homes to athletes. For the last three years, the JMU team has stayed with the same two couples, Ron and Ingrid Hughes and Mike and Pam Mohler. According to Gooden, the ladies have a great time with their hosts, including home-cooked meals and time spent lounging in a house rather than in a hotel. But the Dukes also knew they were there to compete in a golf tournament against a strong field.
There is a tendency to feel added pressure when a team hosts a tournament, but the JMU golfers didn't let that thinking get into their psyche. Gooden stressed positive thinking to his team on every hole. For some, it paid dividends. The 2011 Rookie of the Year and First Team All-CAA Ginger Mak (North Point, Hong Kong/The International School of Macao) came into the tournament off a second-place finish at the Hurricane Invitational. She finished the "home" event at 6-over 222, making only seven bogeys in the 54 holes to place 15th out of 100 golfers. Senior Nicole Sakamoto (Honolulu, Hawaii/Kalani) tied for 27th at 11-over 227. Senior Valentina Sanmiguel (Bogota, Colombia/Gimasio La Montana) came into the tournament as a last minute substitute for Shabril Brewer (Herndon, Va./Westfield), who was injured during the practice round. It was Sanmiguel's first tournament since an accident sidelined her for the early part of the spring schedule, as she was cleared to play just three days before the first round began. Considering the circumstances, she played very well with a 78 and 30-over 246 over the three days. The team placed 12th out of 17 teams.
There were several memorable moments, both on and off the course for the Dukes, during the weekend making it a very productive trip. The team came back to JMU with South Beach tans but more importantly, lessons. Success bolsters confidence and mistakes precede learning. Gooden knows his team is talented and can grow into a powerhouse group on the golf course with fine tuning of both the physical and mental parts of the game.
"Don't talk about excuses," Gooden continued. "Excuses are for losers. Talk about solutions. I've got a good group and I know good things will happen. We've just got to stay the course."
At the Pinehurst Challenge in Pinehurst, N.C., on March 19-20, the Dukes didn't make excuses and came back from an 11th place spot on day one to finish eighth overall. In the final round, the ladies put together a 297 that tied for the fifth-lowest 18-hole team score this season. Sakamoto posted a 3-under 69 in round two to put her in a tie for seventh. Mak had her third straight top-20 finish, tying for 17th. The ladies took what they learned in Florida, showing fortitude and competitive drive to pass four teams in the final round at Pinehurst.
They continued their upward trend at the UNCW Lady Seahawk Classic, March 24-25, finishing fifth as a team while Sakamoto won her third collegiate tournament, tying the school's record with a 4-under score for 54 holes. All eyes are focused on the remainder of the season, with just one event before the 2012 CAA Championship on April 20-22 at St. James' Plantation in Southport, N.C.
The Dukes are progressing and remain optimistic about the future. "Our goal from day one was to win the conference and go to the NCAA's," Gooden concluded. "That's still our goal. It's a journey."
Whether it's in a 12-passenger van or a three-round tournament, the JMU women's golf team is determined to make this season's journey a successful one.