U senior golfers ignore distractions

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2011 - 1:13 AM

A court case involving a former U coach hasn't stopped this foursome from bonding and supporting each other.

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Four seniors on the U women’s golf team — (from left) Teresa Puga, Samantha Sommers, Michele Edlin and Mary Narzisi — led the team into the Central Regional.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Not long from now, they will all head in different directions.

Teresa Puga has a little school left to finish before deciding on a career path. Mary Narzisi will work this summer at the TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, then she wants to give the LPGA Futures Tour a try. Michele Edlin is thinking of becoming a teaching pro. Samantha Sommers is going home to St. Cloud to be a literacy reading teacher at an elementary school.

That's what makes this week so poignant.

The foursome, all seniors on the University of Minnesota women's golf team, have been together for their college careers. They have practiced together, worked together, grown together. To think that it is almost over is difficult.

"We are really close as a team," Sommers said. "I think that makes the competition fun. We compete against each other, but we're also there to support each other, too. We have become very, very close."

This week, the Gophers -- ranked 41st in the country by Golf Week Magazine -- will be one of 24 teams taking part in the NCAA Central Regional at Notre Dame's Warren Golf Course.

The Gophers women's team hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2001. The Gophers' sixth-place finish in the Big Ten tournament is also the best by the team in a decade. Eight teams will qualify for the championship finals, and the Gophers' goal is to be among that top eight.

That would keep them together a little longer.

"When we came in, [the Gophers] were 123rd in the nation," Narzisi said. Four years later, she still recalls that number. "We do remember, because it was a pretty terrible number. I think we're all proud of the hard work."

The four seniors, who form the backbone of the team, have had the unique opportunity to play together, and play a lot, from the beginning. A lot of that was because of the state of the Gophers program when they entered it, of course.

And so, not surprisingly, their names will end up all over the program's record books. Puga's career scoring average of 75.62, amassed over 122 rounds of competitive golf, is the best in program history. Narzisi's 78.12 average is third, Sommers (78.23) is fifth and Edlin (78.88) is 10th.

All four are proud of where the program is now, and they are convinced it is headed in the right direction.

Perhaps more impressive is that the Gophers have been able to shut out courtroom-sized distractions on the way to the NCAA regional. Former associate women's coach Kathryn Brenny has sued the University of Minnesota, alleging that athletic department officials took away her coaching duties after John Harris, the director of golf, learned she was a lesbian.

With litigation pending, none of the players can comment directly on the case. But they did talk about their ability to keep focused on golf with distractions surrounding the program.

"It wasn't easy," Sommers said. "But we turned to each other a lot. We talked with each other. We told ourselves from the beginning that the only way we were going to get anything done was to play for yourselves, for the team. Don't let anything bother the team."

Said Puga: "There are always things you can control, and things you cannot control. All we could do was stick together, push each other, just keep going and try our best, control our own games."

Those games have been remarkably consistent. Puga tied for first at the Central Florida Challenge and has six top-20 finishes in 10 spring tournaments. Narzisi finished tied for 14th at the Big Ten Championships, where Puga finished tied for 21st, Sommers tied for 23rd and Edlin tied for 32nd.

It will take a strong effort for the Gophers to advance past the regional. But regardless of the outcome, all four seniors said they will leave with good memories.

Puga, who is from Spain, has pretty much been adopted by the Edlins, who live in Jackson in southwest Minnesota. Edlin remembers meeting Puga shortly after her arrival, when Puga spoke very little English, and being sure she wouldn't last. "But she's a fighter," Edlin said. "She's a fighter. She learned English, and fast. I like to say I helped her."

They have all helped each other, at times through difficult times.

"The whole issue brought us closer together," Edlin said of the legal matter. "We came together as a team. We have each others' backs, no matter what. That's one thing you learn from hard times, and that's what we did to keep focused."

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