In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, the Auburn University Tigers.
Surrounded by carts and bags, the Auburn University women’s golf team huddled together, just as they always do before a tournament. But they weren’t at the Valspar Augusta Invitational, as their schedule said they would be. Instead, the Tigers were in a grocery store parking lot, stocking up on food ahead of a campus shutdown.
It was March 13, 2020. Earlier that day, the team had learned that SEC sports were canceled through April 15. That wiped out the rest of their regular season, including their home tournament.
“We were all just at a loss for words,” said star freshman Megan Schofill. “No one knew what to say.”
Understandably, the team had taken the news hard. Led by Schofill and junior Kaleigh Telfer, the Tigers were making their way up the rankings. They won the Lake Oconee Invitational and finished runner-up at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate. Individually, Telfer racked up a win and two top 10s in three events this spring, and Schofill had her first collegiate victory. The supporting cast was hitting its stride as well. Junior Mychael O’Berry notched a T-3 at Lake Oconee, sophomore Brooke Sansom dropped her stroke average to 73.5, and seniors Elena Hualde Zúñiga and Kayley Marschke earned top-15 finishes.
The Auburn team at the 2020 Darius Rucker Invitational. Left to right: Elena Hualde Zúñiga, Julie McCarthy, Coach Melissa Luellen, Mychal O'Berry, Kaleigh Telfer, and Megan Schofill. Photo credit: Auburn University Athletics
To top it all off, Schofill, Telfer, and junior Julie McCarthy had been invited to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
But now, all of a sudden, their season was over. After March 13, some of the Tigers headed home. This was a tense decision for the team’s international players, who didn’t want to be caught on the wrong side of a travel ban. “It was very stressful trying to get home,” Julie McCarthy said of her trip back to Ireland. “As the situation got worse around the world, we got a call to say we should go home, so I booked a flight on a Monday evening [March 16] and flew on a Tuesday morning.”
Things weren’t any easier for South African Kaleigh Telfer, who, according to head coach Melissa Luellen, “was on maybe the last flight into Johannesburg before the shutdown.”
But everyone on the team made it home safely, and on March 17, the NCAA canceled all spring sports, officially ending Auburn’s season.
But the Tigers are trying to keep their focus on the future. The Augusta National Women’s Amateur has told 2020 invitees that they will be welcome in the spring of 2021, so Schofill, Telfer, and McCarthy are still looking forward to trips down Magnolia Lane. They are all big fans of the ANWA. Coach Luellen was thrilled when ANGC chairman Fred Ridley announced the new event back in 2018. “I might have gotten more excited than the players,” she said.
Kaleigh Telfer at Amen Corner in 2019. Photo credit: Auburn University Athletics
While Telfer competed in the 2019 edition, Schofill, a high school senior at the time, was glued to the coverage. “It was cool to see everyone supporting women’s golf,” she said. “Last summer I really worked on my World Amateur Golf Ranking to be eligible, and I’m just looking forward to playing against the best players in the world.”
Prior to the ANWA, Schofill and Telfer will participate in the 2020 Palmer Cup, a team event rescheduled for December at Bay Hill. Schofill will represent the United States while Telfer will play for the International team.
But before any of that, the Auburn women’s golf team has to finish out the 2019-20 school year. Coach Luellen has weekly team meetings to go over everyone’s schedules, set goals for both academics and golf, and report back on how they did the previous week. “It’s been really good to see everyone’s faces and hear how everyone is doing,” said Schofill.
As befits a time of quarantine, the Tigers are working on their mental golf games. “We give them scenarios and ask what they would do,” said Luellen. Assistant coach Kim Hall, who started in the spring, is trying to build long-distance team chemistry. Luellen thinks Hall has already made an impact on the players. “Kim brought some new ideas, and we changed it up a bit,” Luellen said.
These are strange times for the Auburn Tigers, but as Coach Luellen puts it, “We’re all doing our best to embrace change.”
1st – Lake Oconee Invitational
2nd – Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
3rd – Magnolia Invitational
4th – Mason Rudolph Championship
Kaleigh Telfer – 1st – Northrop Grunman Reg. Challenge (66-70-71)
Megan Schofill – 1st – Lake Oconee Invitational (73-68-68)
Megan Schofill – 2nd – Magnolia Invitational (69-70-69)
Mychael O’Berry – T-3 – Lake Oconee Invitational (71-71-72)
Megan Schofill – T-3 – Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (71-72-71)
Kaleigh Telfer – T-5 – Lake Oconee Invitational (76-72-67)
Kaleigh Telfer – T-7 – Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (73-75-70)
Kayley Marschke – 8th – Lake Oconee Invitational (77-73-68)