Freshman Jensen Castle crushed the previous individual school scoring record
Written by UK staff
LEXINGTON, Ky. – When the Kentucky women’s golf team was called off the course midway through its practice round nearly two weeks ago in Mesa, Arizona, there was a full understanding that there were bigger things than golf happening around the country.
Just about everyone in college athletics will remember where they were on March 12 when the world as they knew it was put on hold. First were the questions of how long everything would be suspended – would it be one week, two weeks or more? – then the NCAA Championships were officially canceled that afternoon, and eventually all activities within the Southeastern Conference had been nixed.
Done was the 2019-20 athletics season. The COVID-19 pandemic had become too big to put anyone’s health at risk. And gone with it were the dreams the 2019-20 Kentucky women’s golf team had put itself in reach of.
Perspective was in full view as the Wildcats caught a flight later that day and as the group shared a group hug that night upon arrival back in Lexington. They had a feeling it would be the last time they would see each other for a while but they all understood it wasn’t a time to mourn over an opportunity missed.
Now that a new reality has set in, one in which the Wildcats won’t have a chance to compete in a postseason they were certainly destined for, it’s also time to reflect on a group that set new standards – regardless of when the season ended.
Chief among the 2019-20 highlights: a new single-season team scoring record and a new single-season individual scoring mark. This group set the new team scoring record with 289.53 strokes per round while freshman Jensen Castle exceeded what were already gigantic expectations with a 71.88 average.
The team average was nearly seven strokes better than the 2013-14 single-season record, and Castle’s average bested Leonie Bettel’s mark of 73.16 by more than a stroke. Despite the shortened season, Castle met the school-record qualifications in the official records with 17 rounds. The minimum is 15.
“It’s hard to put into words what these last couple of weeks have been like,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “We were all in shock and disbelief as we sat in the Phoenix airport, reading the news from the NCAA that our season was over. There was disappointment, tears and heartbreak as we tried to sort through what had just happened over a three-hour span and answer the questions from our team as it started to sink in what had just happened.
“As time has passed, we’ve taken a step back to reflect on what was a record-breaking season, one of the best in our programs history and for that we also have an incredible sense of pride.
“When it comes to the team, I’m just so incredibly proud of how they have handled everything that’s happened. We’re not naïve to think we were the only ones who are dealing with disappointment, but I’m just so happy with how this group not only understood everything that was happening but put it into perspective.
“And then when you take another step back and look at what we had already accomplished and where I believe this young group was going, it makes me incredibly grateful to be their head coach. We have worked to instill a new level of competitiveness in these girls this season, to challenge themselves with every round, every practice and even every swing, and they exceeded those expectations.
“We played in some really competitive events this year and went to-to-toe with some of the best teams in the nation. One of my best memories is after the second round in North Carolina as we followed up a solid first round with a great second round. Each player came off the golf course realizing what their teammates had shot and there was this great sense of pride and understanding of what our team was truly capable of. We will always wonder where this season could have taken us, and that’s OK, but more than anything, we can look back on this season with tremendous pride and look forward with a ton of excitement. The future of Kentucky women’s golf is bright.”
The proof is in the numbers.
In addition to the school-record marks, this group blazed a new trail for future teams to follow. Of the school’s single-season top 10 scoring averages, five of them belong to players on the 2019-20 team.
Although there aren’t official records for the most rounds of par or better, this team was likely going to set a new benchmark there. Of the 114 individual rounds played this season, 38 were par or better.
The Wildcats also posted 10 individual top-10 finishes with 20 top-20 showings.
Team wise, three of the best 18-hole rounds in school history took place this season, and more importantly, all that individual success led to two team wins and nearly a third with a runner-up finish.
The highlight of the season was back-to-back championships at the Minnesota Invitational and Bettie Lou Evans Invitational in September. Not only did the season-opening titles result in the first multi-win season since 1997-98, they marked the first back-to-back championships in an athletics year of competition since 1990-91, when UK would go on to win a school-record four tournaments.
With a full season – Kentucky still had three regular-season tournaments left, the SEC Championship and NCAA play – it isn’t crazy to think UK could have tied that mark. The Wildcats nearly won a third with a second-place finish at the Cardinal Cup in October and led all four fall tournaments after two rounds of play.
Kentucky had some rust to shake off to begin the spring but appeared to be rounding back into form at the conclusion of the Moon Golf Invitational in February, the final tournament the Wildcats would play in 2019-20. The Wildcats finished No. 25 in the Golfstat rankings, the best final-season ranking in the 10-season Borst era.
UK did all this after losing two seniors, including one of the most decorated golfers in school history in Bettel, the school’s previous single-season stroke record holder and three-time winner in 2018-19.
Kentucky’s roster improved from top to bottom, but the injection of talented youth pushed everyone to get better. The most decorated signing class in school history – headlined by Castle, the highest-rated prospect in program history, and Marissa Wenzler, the 2018 Ohio High School Athletic Association state champion – made a major impact. The two combined for eight top-20 finishes and three top-10 showings, and Wenzler finished second on the team in stroke average, behind only Castle.
Their presence forced everyone to step their games up, but veterans like junior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen (three top-20 finishes with two top-10 performances), sophomore Casey Ott (team-high three top-10 finishes and 18- and 54-hole career lows) and senior Sarah Shipley (two top-20 showings) showed renewed focus after signs of success in previous seasons.
It remains to be seen whether the NCAA will restore eligibility for the seniors impacted by the loss of their spring seasons and how that will impact Shipley and Josephine Chang, but it’s clear after a record-setting 2019-20 that Kentucky women’s golf has built a foundation for the future.