COLUMBIA — Sunday's Cougar Classic, the first tournament of the season, was an ideal opportunity for the Missouri women's golf team to stake its claim as an NCAA tournament contender.
The Cougar Classic included seven of Golfweek's preseason top 30 and eight Southeastern Conference teams. The Yeamans Hall course in Hanahan, S.C., was in prime condition to host teams hungry to prove themselves.
The Tigers finished in 15th place, the lowest of the SEC teams. Coach Stephanie Priesmeyer expected more of her team.
"I think we were feeling like, with the goals our players have and how much they want to be successful this year, that they were going to walk in with that confidence and swagger," Priesmeyer said. "I really didn't see that overconfident look. Sometimes it looked like a little panic or deer in the headlights when it wasn't going their way."
Senior Taylor Gohn tied for 26th individually, at 3 under-par, which was the highest ranking of any Missouri player.
"She was ready," Priesmeyer said. "When I talk about the swagger and the confidence, she was like 'I'm ready!' We really kind of left her alone, and almost every time we were around her, we felt like we were distracting her. She'd make a bogey, and we decided to leave her alone because she was just in the zone."
Gohn said she was happy with her performance but is already looking ahead to the Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championship next week in Knoxville, Tenn.
"I played pretty well, Gohn said. "It was fun to get back into things and play in a tournament for Mizzou. We all have a lot of work to do, including myself."
Gohn already has a plan for improving her game for the next tournament.
"This week, I'm going to work a lot on course management," Gohn said. "I think I was striking the ball pretty well — it was just little things I was doing on the golf course that I could've done a little better."
The rest of the team finished farther down the leaderboard. Junior Alina Rogers tied for 5oth place at 10 over-par. Sophomore Katherine Hepler finished 14 over-par, redshirt sophomore Michelle Butler hit 22 over-par and sophomore Haelena Schwemmer finished 23 over-par.
Priesmeyer said it wasn't the nervousness of a new season that hindered the team's performance, but a poor performance.
"With this group, they've got enough experience now where I'm not really sure nerves should be a part of it," Priesmeyer said. "I don't feel like they performed, and they don't either. So I know that was disappointing."
Priesmeyer said the biggest challenge in practice is to simulate the pressures of a tournament. So she is adding a twist to the team's qualification this weekend: The scores of the first and last three holes will count twice for each player.
"We'll play 18 holes Saturday, 18 holes Sunday and we'll add holes one, two and three again to emphasize a doubling at the start," Priesmeyer said. "And then we're going to add 16, 17 and 18 twice, so your finish is twice as important. We're doing this with qualifying to add pressure so that when they tee off, they know that hole No. 1 is going to count again."