Former Longhorn Sophia Schubert (playing in the NCAA Austin Regional in May) won her singles match Sunday to help the U.S. team take the Arnold Palmer Cup. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Schubert, Arkansas’ Fassi, Michigan State’s Burnham set the pace at NCAA golf regional

Posted May 7th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • The best three golfers in the field combined to shoot 8-under par in the first round.
  • Arkansas's Maria Fassi, No. 2 in the nation, bombs golf courses while Michigan State's Sarah Burnham and Texas' Sophia Schubert have great all-around games.
  • All three of the elite golfers led their teams to conference championships, and Texas, Arkansas and Michigan State all rank in the top three after Day One.

The best women’s college golfers in the country converged on the University of Texas Golf Club Monday morning.

And that was just the 8:40 a.m. threesome.

Oh, there were plenty of other talented golfers competing on the first day of the Austin Regional — among them Texas A&M senior Maddie Szeryk, the first-round leader with a 68 — but there was not a more celebrated collection of skill than Group 5.

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All three of them are the most accomplished golfers on their respective teams, all of which won their conference championships. It’s a shame the 18 teams on hand don’t play before bigger galleries than the chirping birds and the barking German shepherd at the house guarding the 12th hole because many of these golfers, and in particular the marquee threesome, should have terrific pro careers. And soon.

Texas’ mature, bubbly Sophia Schubert and Michigan State’s quiet assassin Sarah Burnham both leave school after this season while Mexican-born Maria Fassi is an Arkansas junior who’s gung-ho about the Razorbacks’ chances of winning their first national championship this year in Stillwater, Okla., or next year when Arkansas hosts it in 2019.

Arkansas’ Maria Fassi tees off on the 8th hole during the NCAA Austin golf regional at University of Texas Golf Club, Monday, May 7, 2018. Fassi is ranked second nationally in women’s college golf. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Texas coach Ryan Murphy recruited Fassi out of high school as well as Schubert after the latter got her release from Auburn, but not Burnham from Maple Groves, Minn. “But I should have,” Murphy said. He got in on Fassi too late.

Fassi, Schubert and Burnham — who are ranked second, sixth and 17th in the nation, respectively — put on a show worthy of their clippings on a calm day so still that you could almost hear a protest from somewhere downtown about something. Schubert and Fassi each fired a 3-under par 69 while only a rare bogey on 18 denied the Spartan a share of that second-place standing and left her with a 70.

They’re kinda good.

Burnham’s simply the greatest player in the history of Michigan State women’s golf. Assistant coach Caroline Powers should know.

The petite, even-keeled Burnham with a deliberate style but without a real weakness has broken all of Powers’ school records and is on pace to shatter the Spartans’ season stroke average mark for a third straight year.

By almost a whole stroke. Burnham’s the equivalent of the Spartans’ Magic Johnson in her sport and just as team-oriented and with an equally big smile. She hunts, she fishes, she loves country music, and she’s got a great future.

“She has all the skills,” head coach Stacy Slobodnik said of the Big Ten player of the year who shot a 63 to win last year’s championship. “She’s really the most humble kid I’ve coached in my 20 years, especially one who has excelled at this level.”

Asked about all her acclaim, Burnham fittingly said, “I think I’m OK.”

Fassi is the Dustin Johnson of women’s college golf with the fastest clubhead speed in the game at 107 miles per hour and the longest drives. She can drive the ball 340 yards. She’s got so much power in her game, she routinely outdrove her competitors, although that sometimes got her in trouble like on Monday when she went bogey-double bogey-bogey on 11 through 13 after playing at 5-under through the first 11 holes.

“Oh, my gosh, she can hit it so far,” Burnham said.

Texas’ Sophia Schubert chips onto the green of the 9th hole during the NCAA Austin golf regional at University of Texas Golf Club, Monday, May 7, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Fassi’s not your average golfer.

She grew up in a house on a golf course in Pachuca, an hour north of Mexico City, and played every sport imaginable with her two older brothers whom she described as “a hot mess.” She took up golf at age 8, hated to give up soccer after once starring for an Under 13 Mexican national soccer team, has won eight college tournaments in her career and is so strong and so fit that she carried her own golf bag rather than rely on a pushcart.

Her expectations are intense. So, at times, is her language.

“I’m pretty strong with myself,” said Fassi, who doesn’t mind venting. “It’s not cuss words, but it’s not pretty.”

But Schubert’s game is. She’s pacing Texas to a 7-under score and a three-stroke lead over Arkansas. She came oh so close to holing out with two approach shots with her 52-degree wedge for birdies on 13 and 14 — two of her five birdies overall. “She was 91 (yards) to the flag on 14,” assistant coach Kate Golden said, “and she hit it 91.”

More like 90 and 9/10ths because she had a one-inch tap-in to deprive her of the Longhorns’ second eagle of the day. But she feels the great competition brings out the best in her and her team.

“Maria just bombs it. She’s the longest girl I’ve ever played with,” Schubert said. “Sarah and I hit it decent, but she was blowing it by us. And Sarah’s just good all-around. She doesn’t make many mistakes.”

There was little chit-chat among the threesome, but they all said that was due to their tunnel-visioned focus.

“We like each other. We’re all close,” Schubert said. “Close enemies, maybe.”

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