Christine Wolf and Emma de Groot had little idea of what they signed up for when they decided to play golf at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga more than four years ago.
They signed up to be pioneers.
Coach Colette Murray built the UTC women’s golf program from the ground up.
There was no program when she arrived. No history, no budget, no courses to practice on and certainly nothing like the new practice facility off Hickory Valley Road.
Then Murray signed Wolf and de Groot, who will play in their last Southern Conference tournament this weekend in Charleston, S.C.
“I’m one step closer to finishing school, which is nice, but I’m also closer to finishing the golf side of things, which is sad,” de Groot said. “It wasn’t until I realized all the things you could achieve in college golf.”
Murray’s teams have experienced incomparable success in the SoCon, and few other schools — let alone mid-major programs — have emerged on the national women’s golf stage so quickly.
Murray’s Mocs have played in three straight regional tournaments — with a fourth upcoming no matter the SoCon result, because of their ranking — and one NCAA championship tournament. They are the reigning SoCon champions.
“Until you win the NCAA championship, you can always do more,” de Groot said. “We’ve always had humps along the way. This year, we have six girls who can play and love one another.
“I think we can do something special if we stick to it through the end.”
The Mocs have been consistently ranked in the top 50 of the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings for the last three years and are among a gaggle of national teams waiting to break through as top-tier programs competing with the powerhouse schools.
“It’s kind of sad thinking that this is the last conference tournament, but we knew it would be only for four years,” Wolf said. “Our team has never been as deep as it is this year.”
Even though the two cornerstones of the program will depart at the end of the season — they hope that’s not until May 18-20 in the NCAA tournament hosted by Texas A&M — the future of the team is bright. Two good freshmen are Jordan Britt, who prepped at GPS and Signal Mountain, and South African Yushira Budhram.
“It’s been a great experience and I can’t believe that we leave on Friday,” Britt said. “I’ve grown as a player and as an individual, and I’ve learned a lot. I’m ready to go, and I’m ready to help us win conference.”
Murray has the rest of the season on her mind these days, as well as the future of the program she built.
“You’re always rebuilding, and if you’re not then you’re not getting better,” Murray said. “We’re still just little Chattanooga, the little sister of Tennessee. The quality of players I recruit hasn’t changed.
“Getting turned down for Ohio State, Michigan State and Florida State, I haven’t gotten used to that.”
Another run to a regional followed by a date in the NCAA championship could turn the tables on those schools sooner than later.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...