Tide not feeling the pressure as defending champs

Alabama Women's Golf

Brooke Pancake needed to just hit par to secure the biggest win in program history for Alabama women’s golf.

It came down to a four-foot putt on the 18th hole at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn.

She nailed it.

And with that made putt late last May, Pancake, a since-graduated senior, clinched the Crimson Tide’s first national championship in program history, beating USC in a one-shot victory.

Fast forward to early February of this year. The Alabama’s women golf team is preparing themselves at the Jerry Pate Golf Center early one afternoon for one of the team’s final practices before their season opener in Puerto Rico the following week.

From an outsider’s perspective, the team looked calm and relaxed with the start of the season rapidly approaching. Minus Pancake, the same group was back for another season, plus a few more, but they didn’t look like a team that had just won a national championship.

While many teams would still be basking in their glory after winning their first title, this team was already hungry for more.

“I think we have a lot more confidence now knowing that we’ve done it before,” junior Stephanie Meadow said. “We’ve talked to some of the girls on the gymnastics team, since they’ve gone back-to-back. They had to put it in their past and not act entitled to it anymore, so I think we try to look at it that way.”

Like their football counterparts at UA, the team is attempting to remove certain words from their vocabularies coming into this season to avoid putting the pressure on themselves.

“I mean, obviously we want to be repeats, but I’m trying really hard not to think about it as a repeat, I just want to win another national championship,” Meadow said. “I know that you have to be disciplined and be careful, because just because we won it last year doesn’t give us any head start or any advantage over anyone else.”

While they are doing their part to avoid pressure situations, the reason they don’t feel much to begin with is because of the message head coach Mic Potter has instilled in them. Rather than telling his team to go out there and win, he prefers to tell them to just go out and play the best golf that they can.

“Our goals are personal and we have certain process goals that we judge our performances on,” Potter said. “They involve not worrying about the score, not obsessing about where we finish, but rather here’s the shot I have, how do I execute it to the best of my ability.”

Following an 8th place finish in their first tournament of the fall season back in September, Potter refocused the team to get back to the basics and fundamentals of the game. He reminded them to work on the process and not worry about the outcome.

In their following two tournaments since then, they have finished 2nd and tied for 1st.

“You have to realize that every tournament is just another golf tournament,” senior Jennifer Kirby said. “It’s the stuff around it and the media and everything else that adds to making it a bigger tournament in your head.

“I think the big key for us for this tournament coming up is just getting back into the swing of things and feeling comfortable out there after it’s been a while.”

Although the team finds its success by focusing only on the things that they can control, the expectations are now there and they know they have what it takes to do it again.

“If we had what it took to go all the way last year, there’s no reason we don’t have what it takes this year,” Potter said. “I like to think we built a team that will always have a chance.”

In the end though, the most important thing at season’s end is not about winning or losing at all.

“The biggest thing I want to be able to do is sit down at the end of the year, look at where each of our players was at the beginning of the year, and see that they’ve improved substantially.”

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