2000-01 Lady Bulldogs play their best when it means the most
Ask the Georgia women's golf team which two tournaments they would like to win during the season, and to a person, you would receive the same reply - the SEC and NCAA Championships.
Last week, the Lady Bulldogs of 2001 made those most improbable hopes a reality, firing a 2-over 290 during the final round of the NCAA Championships to claim the first national title in the program's illustrious history. Georgia erased a four-shot deficit entering the day and finished three shots ahead of top-ranked Duke, 1176 to 1179. Ironically, a month ago, the Lady Dogs trailed by four shots entering the final round of the SEC Championships and won there as well.
"This has to be the greatest day of my life," coach Todd McCorkle said. "These girls have worked so hard to get here. It just makes this that much more special."
Reilley Rankin and Summer Sirmons carded even-par 72s, while Laura Henderson and Angela Jerman shot a pair of 73s to round out Georgia's counting rounds. Whitney Christie shot 82 for the Lady Dogs, playing the back nine at 1-under after struggling on the front.
"I don't know what the probability of just winning the SECs and NCAAs happening is, but I'm sure it's not very good," said Henderson, the lone senior in the lineup. "If there's any team to do it, I guess it's us. We were so focused and so well prepared for those two events."
Winning has not been a problem for the Georgia women's golf team. The Lady Bulldogs won 16 tournaments in the three years prior to this season.
"I know that being in contention at almost every tournament and winning so many of them over the past couple of seasons helped prepare us for today," Henderson said. "It helped us fight through this round. To win the national championship in the last round of my last collegiate tournament...I don't know if I can express how much that means to me."
The Lady Bulldogs claimed the title in championship fashion. When its lead was in jeopardy coming down the stretch, Georgia responded.
After all four Lady Bulldogs who posted counting rounds bogeyed No. 16, Sirmons, Jerman and Rankin responded with a trio of birdies on No. 17 to all but ensure the victory. All four Lady Dogs then posted pars on No. 18, with Rankin's tap-in in the final group setting off a celebration on the green.
"They're going to have to invent a new word to add to the dictionary to describe what I'm feeling," said Rankin, who posted six birdies and six bogeys en route to an even-par tally.
Rankin, who broke Vicki Goetze's single-season stroke average record with her performance Friday, finished tied for 10th at 292. Rankin completes the year with a 73.24 average, .10 better than Goetze's 1993 mark. Henderson and Jerman tied for 13th at 294, while Sirmons tied for 18th at 296. Christie tied for 106th.
For Georgia, the victory was perhaps more gratifying because of the path the Lady Bulldogs took to claiming the title. During the fall, Georgia slipped as low as No. 17 nationally. Two solid performances to end the 2000 calendar year propelled the Lady Dogs into the spring.
"A lot of the girls wanted to know when we started the season if I thought we were good enough to win the national championship," said McCorkle, who led Arizona to the 2000 NCAA title before becoming Georgia's head coach last June. "I told them I didn't know. I knew we could be very good, but you also have to have a little luck to win a national title. I do know we are the most improved team in the country. I knew that before we even came to nationals, though."
The Lady Bulldogs won Georgia's second NCAA Championship in three days. The Bulldog tennis team defeated Tennessee, 4-1, to claim its second national title in three years.
On Friday evening, Rankin and Sirmons were given additional recognition as they were both tabbed second-team All-America by the National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) at its season-ending banquet.
Historic Coach McCorkle
Research has determined that McCorkle is only the second NCAA Division I coach -- men's or women's -- to win consecutive national titles at different schools. Richard Quick led Texas to the NCAA title in women's swimming and diving in 1988 and then did so at Stanford in 1989.
In addition, McCorkle is one of only four coaches to lead women's athletic teams to national titles at two different schools. He joined the aforementioned Richard Quick (who has won a combined 12 titles at Texas and Stanford), Mark Schubert (Swimming and Diving at Texas in 1990 and 1991 and at Southern Cal in 1997) and Bev Kearney (Indoor Track and Field at Florida in 1992 and at Texas in 1998 and 1999).
2000-01 Lady Bulldog Scorecard
- Georgia won two tourneys during the 2000-01 season – the two biggest on the schedule – the SEC and NCAA Championships. In both, the Lady Dogs trailed by four shots entering the final round.
- Georgia captured its first-ever national team title after posting runner-up finishes in 1981, 1988 and 1999.
- Summer Sirmons, Angela Jerman and Reilley Rankin all captured medalist honors, marking the first time since 1988 that three different Lady Dogs claimed individual titles in a single season.
- The Lady Bulldogs bettered their all-time stroke average record, finishing the year with a 298.03 mark to better the previous standard of 298.24 in 1997-98. Individually, Reilley Rankin finished the season with a 73.24 stroke average to break Vicki Goetze's Lady Bulldog record of 73.34 in 1992-92.
- Individual honor roll: All-America: Rankin (2nd team) and Sirmons (2nd); All-SEC: Rankin (1st), Sirmons (1st), Henderson (2nd) and Jerman (HM); National Golfer of the Month: Rankin (April); National Golfer of the Week: Sirmons (2/28) and Rankin (4/10); SEC Golfer of the Week: Sirmons (2/28), Jerman (3/20) and Rankin (4/10).