UM women's golf team confident, ready to compete against the best in NCAA Finals

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan women’s golf coach Jan Dowling has always enjoyed the underdog role.

She grew up in a small town north of Toronto, fell in love with golf, and took her game to Kent State. Now, Dowling is in her eighth season as Michigan coach and is one of 20 finalists for the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Division I Coach of the Year. Dowling and the Wolverines are in Arizona as one of 24 teams competing for the national championship with stroke play Friday through Sunday.

The top eight teams after stroke play then advance to two days of match-play competition to determine the national champion.

Monet Chun

This is No. 24-ranked Michigan’s fourth trip to the NCAA Championships and third since 2016. Michigan State is also in the finals and they represent the only two “northern” schools in the championships. The Wolverines have had top-five finishes in all six events this year and tied a program-best runner-up finish at the Big Ten championships. Michigan emerged from the Columbus Regional tied for fifth with a program-best 54-hole total of 885.

Michigan has had a huge boost this season from Monet Chun, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned first-team honors along with Ashley Lau. Hailey Borja earned second-team All-Big Ten for the second time.

“Last year we had basically the same team and we reached another level,” senior Ashley Kim, a first-team All-Big Ten golfer in 2019-20, said in a phone interview with The Detroit News. “We were growing as a team, and we were all playing better. We wanted to push each other, that was the main difference. And with Monet, she’s just unbelievable. We are all blown away by her. She’s that person that always keeps us calm and is pushing us. As a freshman, it’s impressive to see her play like this.

"Our team has grown so much, especially within this last year with not us having a fall. We all wanted to take advantage of what we lost, and that’s exactly what we’re doing now.”

Dowling likes the way her team is playing and also likes her chances against the field. Among her “favorite things” to do, as an underdog, is take on the top teams.

“At regionals, we figured out we are, in fact, a top-24 team in the country,” Dowling said. “We’ve earned the right, and it’s rightfully deserved because we earned a chance to compete for a national championship. There are only 24 teams that are there. Our team has seen validation of the effort that they’ve put in.

"We have been fortunate — we did play a ton of ACC teams, didn’t see a lot of SEC teams, but we have a very strong schedule and we’re seeing a lot of Power Five conference teams week in and week out. In golf you can do some comparative work, so if you’re going toe-to-toe with (No. 2) Duke (in the regional) and Duke has beat all these other teams, well, it gives our players some confidence we can compete with the best.”

Borja said the team is headed to Scottsdale feeling confident.

“With how we’ve performed all season, I think we’re ready to compete against these other teams,” said Borja, who matched a career-low 69 during the Columbus Regional. “We have played some of the teams in tournaments and we were one behind them or right there with them, so I’m feeling really confident we’re going to do well.”

The NCAA Championships are being held at Scottsdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club and the Wolverines expect the desert course to have firm, fast greens.

“It suits the better players, which I think bodes well for us,” Dowling said.

Borja and Kim said they feel confident in their games and believe the team as a whole is playing extremely well at this point in the season.

“Right now, I feel like my game is honestly on the top,” Kim said. “It’s been the best it’s been this whole season and very confident and very excited to go into nationals.”

Dowling admires Big Ten golf because golfers must learn to play in all elements. She tells her players what a great feeling it is to beat a West Coast team and prove you can play in a colder climate and still prevail. The golfers said this is a perfect time to put that on display.

“Our team is super special,” Kim said. “We’ve worked so hard, especially with all the adversity with all the COVID stuff. We’ve been super diligent and patient, and I’m very proud of our team. It’s our time to show everyone what we’re made, and who we are and who Michigan is and show that Michigan’s a golf school.”

Twitter: @chengelis