Three Women's Amateur Qualifiers Helping Reviving Tulane Program
By David Shefter, USGA
Eugene, Ore. – As Stephanie Wagstaff walked by the scoreboard behind the clubhouse at Eugene Country Club Tuesday she was greeted by reigning two-time U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Bolger.
Bolger, wearing her Tulane hat, noticed the light blue hat on Wagstaff’s head with the words Tulane scripted across the front.
A few nice words were exchanged before Wagstaff, an 18-year-old from Asheville, N.C., moved on. Bolger, now 30, graduated from the school eight years ago, five years prior to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina that briefly shut down the school and eventually extinguished several of the school’s athletic programs, including men’s and women’s golf.
But this fall, Wagstaff and five other golfers will be part of Tulane’s first recruiting class since women’s golf was revived for the fall of 2008. Two of Wagstaff’s future teammates – 18-year-olds Ashley McKenney of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Janine Fellows of Houston, Texas – also qualified for this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“Of course it’s exciting,” said Wagstaff, who missed the match-play cut with a 36-hole total of 168. “Especially after this week. Three of the girls who tried to qualify are here. That’s half our team.”
Newly minted women’s coach John Horton, who came to Tulane after being an assistant men’s coach at Georgia Southern, landed four freshmen and two transfers to his initial class. Prior to the program’s demise in the fall of 2005, the school had Alison Walshe, who later transferred to Arizona and like Bolger was a member of the victorious 2008 USA Curtis Cup team. Mary Jacobs also left Tulane to join Walshe at Arizona.
But with solid backing from the school’s athletic administration, which included former women’s coach Sue Bower (now an assistant athletic director), Horton took an enthusiastic approach to land recruits.
“He gets us excited about it,” said McKenney, a two-time Arizona state high school champion who also missed the cut (159). “He can’t wait for us to be there as much as we can’t wait to get to college.”
For the most part, Tulane was spared much of the destruction from the Category 5 hurricane that caused more than $81 billion in damage and claimed more than 1,800 lives. The school’s baseball complex and student-athlete center suffered the most, but have since been rebuilt. While men’s golf still has yet to be reinstated, Tulane decided to bring back women’s golf – along with women’s tennis – this fall.
The chance to be part of something new as well as get a first-class education intrigued Wagstaff, McKenney and Fellows. And former player Walshe was happy to see women’s golf back as part of the athletic department’s curriculum.
“I met the coach [on Sunday] and I’m so excited that they’re starting back up,” said Walshe, an All-Conference USA performer in her only season at the school in 2004-05. “It looks like they’re going to have an awesome team. I’m really anxious to see how they do.”
Added McKenney: “It’s kind of cool we get to make our own [tradition]. A lot of times, you go into a program and there’s a hierarchy. You have to fit in with all the other [established] girls. But we’re coming in fresh. We’re coming in on equal footing and we all have the same goal.”
McKenney did get to see the recruiting process first hand with older brother Tim getting wooed by many top schools before settling on the University of Florida. But while Tim wanted a high-profile program with a strong winning tradition, Ashley had a different set of parameters. Education was a top priority. So was the chance to play immediately.
Wagstaff also loved the school’s strong academic tradition, while Fellows chose to transfer from the Univrsity of Texas-San Antonio after one season.
“It just wasn’t the right fit,” said Fellows, who like her fellow Green Wave recruits did not advance to match play this week. “[Tulane] is more competitive. It’s a better school. It just worked out for the better.”
The team’s first event is scheduled for Sept. 14-16 at the Cougar Classic hosted by the College of Charleston at historic Yeamans Hall in Charleston, S.C. By then, the young team that consists of four freshmen and two sophomores should have become acclimated with each other, the school and Horton.
“We have an opportunity to rebuild Tulane women’s golf,” said McKenney, “and help rebuild New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. It’s a different situation, but it’s a great opportunity.”
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.