LAKELAND – The Lady Moc Classic tees off Monday morning at Grasslands Golf Country Club with approximately 100 golfers scheduled to compete in the 19th annual event that typically draws in some of the best Division II women's golf teams in the country. The three-round tournament will be played over two days, with two rounds on Monday and one on Tuesday. Action begins each day at 8 a.m.
The 18-team field includes eight of the nine full members of the Sunshine State Conference (Florida Tech will be the only one missing) plus both of the league's provisional members. The Gulf South Conference, Peach Belt Conference and Conference Carolinas will also be represented, giving the Moccasins a chance to go head-to-head with most of the top teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids from the South Region.
According to the February 14 Golfstat national rankings, four of the nation's top eight teams will be participating in this year's Lady Moc Classic, and six of the top 20, a list headed by No. 2 Barry and No. 6 Rollins, the defending NCAA Division II National Champions. Nova Southeastern is No. 7, Saint Leo is No. 8, Lynn comes in at No. 12, and Montevallo is No. 20. Six more teams are ranked between No. 26 and No. 41 in the Golfstat rankings, a group that includes Flagler, West Florida, Armstrong State (GA), Florida Southern, Limestone (SC) and North Carolina-Pembroke.
Ten of the 12 teams mentioned above earned bids to last year's NCAA South Super Regional Tournament, and Florida Southern and UNC-Pembroke combined to send three individual qualifiers, all of whom are back in 2017. From there, Rollins, Nova Southeastern and Saint Leo advanced to the Division II National Finals where they finished first, third, and fourth respectively.
The 2017 Lady Moc Classic field also features Eckerd, Tampa, Palm Beach Atlantic, Embry-Riddle and 2016 junior college national runner-up Seminole State (FL). In addition to those teams, Rollins will be fielding a "B" squad as one of the 18 teams competing, and seven schools are expected to have additional golfers playing as individuals.
In addition to many of the nation's best teams, the Lady Moc Classic will be host to five of the top 10, 12 of the top-25, and 21 of the top 40 individual golfers in Division II. Among them are No. 1-ranked Tilda Larsson of Barry and two-time Sunshine State Conference champion Marie Coors who is ranked fourth.
All 18 teams have played in at least one previous Lady Moc Classic, making this year's tournament the first in 11 years not to have any newcomers. In fact, only Nova Southeastern and Montevallo did not play in last year's Lady Moc Classic, with Nova returning after a 1-year absence and Montevallo back for the first time since 2006. Two teams (Florida Southern and Lynn) have played in the tournament every year since its inception, and Rollins has played in all but the first two.
This is the fourth year in a row the Lady Moc Classic is being played at Grasslands. The par-72 course covers 6,085 yards, with holes ranging from the 110-yard, par-3 No. 10, to the 511-yard, par-5 No. 18. The club was established in 1990, and also hosted the Florida Southern men's golf tournament, the Matlock Collegiate Classic, from 2000-07.
All three rounds will have a shotgun start, with the first two rounds being played on Monday. Round two begins immediately after the conclusion of round one. First- and second-round pairings are pre-determined, and the final-round pairings for Tuesday will be set according to the team standings. The four lowest scores for each team count toward the team scores in each round.
Schools from the Sunshine State Conference have dominated the Lady Moc Classic by winning 14 of the previous 17 tournaments that have been played. (One Lady Moc Classic was completely rained out.) The only three non-SSC teams to win this tournament are North Carolina State in 2002, Washington State in 2003, and Seminole State in 2012. Rollins has won the most titles with six, most recently in 2015, and Florida Southern and Nova Southeastern have each won three. Lynn has captured the Lady Moc Classic twice, with those titles coming in 2014 and 2016.
Last year Lynn staged the greatest come-from-behind victory in tournament history, winning the Lady Moc Classic after sitting in seventh place and trailing Rollins by nine shots going into the final round. Behind individual champion Jenny Ayala, who is now a junior at Lynn, the Knights were able to catch the Tars at the end of round three and force a tie which was broken by the Knights' non-counter in the final round. It was the first time the tournament was ever decided by a playoff or tie-breaker.
Florida Southern has won its own tournament in 1999 (fall of '98), 2007 and 2008, and finished as the runner-up five times, most recently in 2012. The Moccasins have also had three individual champions, the last being Marianne Andersson in 2008. The other two are Pamela Feggans in 2004, and Lisa Cave in 1999 (fall of '98).
The Lady Moc Classic will be Florida Southern's second tournament of the spring after playing in the Barton Invitational at Kiawah Island two weeks ago. The Moccasins were third in that tournament and will have a chance to even things up this week against the two teams that finished ahead of them, Armstrong State and Limestone.
Florida Southern's most decorated golfers coming into this season were fifth-year senior Shannon McKew and junior Abbey Williams, who both qualified for the NCAA regional tournament last year as individuals. They'll be joined in the lineup by sophomores Tori Higgins and Madison Wetzel, and freshman Amanda Gartrell.
Gartrell leads the Moccasins with a 77.92 stroke average, and along with Williams and Higgins has played in all six tournaments this season. The Lakeland native already has two top-10 finishes, highlighted by a third-place showing at Nova Southeastern's GolfRank Invitational in October. That was the same tournament which Higgins won in a playoff after shooting an even-par 144. Behind Gartrell and Higgins, the Moccasins won the team title as well, finishing just ahead of Nova Southeastern and Lynn.
Higgins has seen her stroke average fall by nearly three per round from her freshman average, and her win in the GolfRank Invitational was one of her two top-10 finishes in the fall. She also had a strong showing at last year's Lady Moc Classic when she ended up 20th in a field of 94 golfers while playing as a member of Florida Southern's "B" team.
The Moccasins will still be leaning on McKew and Williams, however, and McKew is coming off her best performance of the season. Two weeks ago at Kiawah Island, McKew tied for third out of 86 golfers in leading the Mocs to their third-place finish as a team. It was the fourth top-five finish for McKew in the last year-and-a-half.
Williams is right behind Gartrell for the team lead in scoring average at 78.08 and has a team-high three top-10 finishes this season. That equals her total for the entire 2015-16 season and gives her seven in her career. Williams was seventh at the Barton Invitational two weeks ago.
None of those golfers, however, was Florida Southern's top performer at last year's Lady Moc Classic. That honor went to Wetzel who tied for eighth place with a score of 227. She shot an even-par 72 in the final round, which matched the best round for any golfer from any team in last year's tournament.
Senior Britta Bernth, junior Kolby McWilliams and junior transfer Anna Millet are all slated to play this week as individuals. Bernth is one of two Moccasins who remain from the team's trip to NCAA postseason play in 2015 and will be playing in her third Lady Moc Classic. McWilliams had one of the best tournaments of her college career at last year's event, and Millet, has knocked nearly four strokes off her average since coming to Florida Southern this year.