Sophomore Ani Gulugian hit one under par to elevate the UCLA women’s golf team to the No.1 seed in this weekend’s NCAA Tournament. Her performance helped the Bruins transcend a six-shot deficit to tie for first place with No. 6 LSU.
“She had a really solid tournament,” Forsyth said. “She was hitting the ball really well and got her putting really squared away … just very consistent play on her part.”
Gulugian led the team with her sixth-place individual finish, marking the fifth time she has appeared in the top 10 this season. The sophomore also won her first individual title at the PING/ASU Invitational in April and earned second-team Pac-12 All-Conference honors.
“She’s really come a long way in terms of how much effort she’s putting into her game now and her ability to focus a lot more in practice,” Forsyth said.
“I think she’s pretty motivated to start achieving some of her goals. Her freshman year, she was pretty up and down. (Her) scoring was not very consistent.”
After a record-tying season and a tournament win, Gulugian will travel to Tennessee with her teammates to contend for the national title. The top-ranked Bruins will return as the defending national champions, refined after a successful season.
“What we did last year is last year. This is this year ““ different golf course, a couple different players on the team ““ it’s not the same thing,” said coach Carrie Forsyth. “We’ve had a good season … but it’s still up in the air.”
After the NCAA West Regional Tournament, UCLA finished its season with seven tournament wins, which ties its previous season’s record.
“It’s just really exciting,” said junior Tiffany Lua. “It means a lot to us personally just to kind of give us the confidence and the push that we need going into nationals.”
The Bruins will travel to the national championship with Gulugian and Lua, as well as senior Brianna Do, redshirt junior Lee Lopez and freshman Erynne Lee.
This tournament berth marks the 12th consecutive year that the women’s golf team has been invited to the NCAA Championship, another school record.
Gulugian will enter the tournament ranked No. 31 individually, with a championship ring already on her finger.
“Obviously, we all really want to win this year ““ that’s the goal, that’s what you set out for,” Gulugian said. “You don’t really want to think about not winning.”
The team has undergone changes since its victory last year, as it lost Stephanie Kono to the pros and brought in top-ranked Lee and freshman Kyle Roig.
Gulugian still works with her teammates to seal victories, both as a top competitor and as a motivator.
“We are still a team even though it’s all individual out on the course. If we see each other on the course, we’ll cheer each other on,” Gulugian said.
“Or before the round, we wish each other good luck, and we practice together in the practice round and go over as a team where we need to hit the ball.”
Gulugian will serve an integral role at the tournament alongside her teammates, as an individual’s performance has the ability to influence both the team’s score and team mentality. Lee, Lopez and Gulugian have all garnered tournament wins, and the starting five have a combined 30 top-10 finishes.
“I think she’s doing a really good job,” Forsyth said. “It’s a work in progress for everybody on our team. Everybody’s always trying to get better. But I think if she continues on this path, we can look forward to a couple more really strong years from her.”
The tournament’s four-day schedule will certainly prove more challenging for the team; however, its ability to remain consistent throughout the season will aid its national title run.
“This whole season we’ve been in all kinds of positions. There’s positions where we came back on the last day to win, and then there’s positions where we’ve played tournaments where we’ve had the lead each day and ended up pulling off the win,” Lua said.
“I think all this experience is definitely really helpful because it’s going to be a really brutal four days coming up.”
The Bruins will be top contenders as the reigning champions and the No. 1 seed going into the tournament, focusing on this event as another possible victory.
“I think our goal that we’ve set throughout each tournament is no matter what tournament we play, we just want to go out and play our own game,” Lua said.