Aspen’s Walla battles elements at NCAA golf championships
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. ” Kristin Walla is no stranger to inclement playing conditions. After all, she played high school golf in Colorado.
But nothing could’ve prepared the 2005 Aspen High graduate Wednesday.
The University of Texas junior stood on the second tee during the second round of the NCAA Championships at the University of New Mexico’s Championship Course and watched balls feed off the green as winds gusts approached 50 mph.
Soon after, play was suspended for nearly two hours. After Walla completed just seven holes, play was suspended for the day just before 5 p.m.
“It was tough to say the least,” Walla said Wednesday from Albuquerque. “Every shot becomes a more difficult task. … There are 14 clubs in the bag. You hope one of them can do the task well enough to make par or birdie.”
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Pars and birdies were few and far between during a second round in which most of the field saw their scores balloon. Walla was 7-over-par after eight holes ” the stretch included her only two double bogeys in the four-day tournament.
After completing her round early Thursday, Walla carded a 10-over 82. The wind, nearly 14 hours spent on the course Thursday (to finish the second and third rounds), and persistent showers over the final three days could do little to dampen the 21-year-old’s spirits in her first trip to the NCAAs, however.
“I enjoyed myself, no matter how hard the wind blew or how many times I had to take the rain gear on and off,” said Walla, who was second in the 2005 4A state tournament. “It was still a very positive experience.”
And an unexpected one, too.
Texas began the season as the nation’s 83rd-ranked program. A seventh-place finish in the Central Regional Championships on May 8-10 ” held on their home course in Austin ” helped the Longhorns clinch their first trip to the NCAAs since 2004.
“We had nothing to lose,” Walla said.
She played like it in Round 1. Walla, starting on the back 9, opened with eight consecutive pars before holing a birdie putt on the 545-yard par-5 18th. She bogeyed three of the next four holes, but regrouped to post 2-over 74 ” just two strokes higher than her best round of the season.
Walla said she felt no nerves.
“I don’t know if it was having my family there or being on a course that looked a lot more like the courses in Colorado,” she explained. The Championship Course is 5,000 feet above sea level and features bent grass, far different than the Bermuda that Walla typical plays on. “I felt comfortable.”
That comfort disappeared Wednesday. The force of the wind nearly blew pins out of holes, added feet of break to putts and made solid contact critical, Walla said. It even uprooted one tree, according to The Associated Press.
“I’ve played a lot of golf in my life, and only once did I play in weather that even resembled that,” Walla’s father, John, a former golfer at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said Wednesday. “It was insane.”
“You have to stay in the moment, and realize that the best thing you can do is get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible,” Walla said. “In hindsight, I look back and think it would’ve been nice to have the opposite pairing and dealt with less weather. It’s still a learning experience for me and everyone else. You have to embrace it for what it is.”
Walla bounced back in Round 3, sinking a birdie at the 179-yard par-3 2nd” her fifth hole ” to move to 1-under. She finished with a 75.
She posted a 76 Friday. Her final round concluded with a birdie on the 18th.
“That always makes you feel better about yourself,” Walla joked.
Her 72-hole total of 19 over put Walla in a tie for 68th in the 124-player field. Texas finished in a tie for 17th with Texas Christian University in the race for the team title.
Walla said the experience was encouraging ” and believes that, after braving the elements in New Mexico, she’ll be prepared for anything.
“I had a lot of good holes out there, a lot to take away from this week and a lot to look forward to,” she said. “Playing in these kinds of conditions can only help down the road.”
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There was some fun post-game banter about maybe making a run at the Europa League crown, or at the very least a championship here in Colorado, but coaches and veteran players alike made sure the Aspen soccer team had its eyes aimed at a more reasonable goal, like making the playoffs.