In “Credit Hours,” we tell the stories of college golf teams whose seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we focus on the Vanderbilt Lady Commodores.
Abbey Carlson arrived at Vanderbilt University in the fall of 2016. One of the top recruits in the country, she could have played just about anywhere. It was Vandy’s engineering program that set the school apart in her eyes. Not only was Carlson an accomplished junior golfer, she was also a licensed pilot who built a two-seater plane with her classmates in high school. At Vanderbilt, she hoped to be a force both in the classroom and on the golf course.
During Carlson’s freshman season, the women’s golf team at Vanderbilt carried only seven players. This meant she had a chance to step up and make a difference right away. She led the team in scoring average and gained early experience as a leader. “I didn’t anticipate coming in as a freshman and having my round count every time,” Carlson said. “I was able to get used to being someone that our team could depend on.”
Even with Carlson established as a contributor, head coach Greg Allen knew the team needed more depth. Morgan Baxendale, Louise Yu, and Virginia Green came on board in 2017 and helped the Lady Commodores drop six strokes off their scoring average. They improved by another two shots after Auston Kim arrived in 2018. Soon Kim emerged as the top player of the bunch, earning Third Team All-America honors as a freshman.
Abbey Carlson (right) with Morgan Baxendale (middle) at the 2019 Mason Rudolph Championships. Photo credit: Vanderbilt University Athletics
Vanderbilt won six times during the 2018-19 season and qualified for the NCAA Championship. “The thing about the national championship is that there are a lot of signs saying you’re at the national championship,” Coach Allen joked. “You can tell a five year-old that the stove is hot as many times as you want, but they’re still going to test it out for themselves. The girls needed to go through a national championship to learn what it’s like to play in one.”
In other words, the Commodores had a rough go of it. They finished 23rd out of 24 teams and did not qualify for match play.
But now they had experience to go with their talent, which meant they were a dangerous team heading into the 2019-20 season. The core four of Carlson, Baxendale, Yu, and Kim returned with a singular vision: contend at the NCAA Championship.
They started well, finishing in the top two twice in their six events. At the season-opening Cougar Classic, Kim and Yu went 1-2 individually. In January, Kim and Carlson received invitations to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The team had two regular season events to go when the pandemic cut its season short. Abruptly, Abbey Carlson’s career at Vanderbilt was over. In her final season, she had a 73.28 stroke average, two top 10s, and a runner-up at Vanderbilt’s home tournament, the Mason Rudolph Championships.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever coached a young lady that embraced being a student-athlete like Abbey did,” said Coach Allen. “She loved everything about Vanderbilt.” Indeed, Carlson loved not only her golf team but also her major. Vandy’s mechanical engineering program is exceptionally challenging, and Carlson spent many hours in the lab. She ended up developing deep friendships with her classmates. “As hard as it was, I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said. “I was able to find my niche outside of the athletics world.”
Abbey Carlson's gallery at the 2019 Mason Rudolph Championships. Photo credit: Vanderbilt University Athletics
At the Mason Rudolph Championships last September, Carlson’s athletic and academic careers merged. Family, campus friends, and even a professor turned out to watch her farewell appearance in the event. She shot 68-70-74 and finished in a tie for runner-up. In her four starts at the Rudolph, Carlson went T-7, fourth, first, and T-2. “There’s something about playing at home in front of people you love and care about,” said Carlson.
But the composition of Carlson’s gallery also suggested a change in her future plans. Academics had moved to the center of her life. “When I was a kid all I wanted to do was play professional golf,” she explained. “Over the course of my junior year, I found a better balance between the pressures of golf and enjoying school. I realized professional golf wasn’t something I really wanted to do as much. I wanted to enjoy playing golf.”
Carlson’s work in the classroom earned her a manufacturing engineering internship at Boeing last summer. There she worked across a few disciplines but found a particular passion for structural analysis, the study of the impact that different forces have on a part. At the end of her internship, Carlson was offered a job as a mechanical design engineer at Boeing’s location in Huntsville, Alabama. She plans to move there later this summer.
With Abbey Carlson leaving, the Lady Commodores will have to do some structural analysis of their own. The team will add two incoming freshmen, Ariel Yu and Virginie Ding, and everyone else will return. As for Carlson, she figures her position at Vanderbilt hasn’t been eliminated, just restructured. “She told me, ‘I’m going to take the role as your biggest fan,’” said Coach Allen.
1st – Cougar Classic
2nd – Mason Rudolph Championships
7th – Windy City Collegiate Classic
Auston Kim – Win – Cougar Classic (65-69-66)
Abbey Carlson – 2nd – Mason Rudolph Championships (68-70-74)
Louise Yu – 2nd – Cougar Classic (72-71-64)
Morgan Baxendale – 4th – Mason Rudolph Championships (72-71-70)
Auston Kim – 6th – Windy City Collegiate Classic (73-68-72)
Louise Yu – 8th – Battle at the Beach (72-72-70)
Austin Kim – 10th – Darius Rucker Intercollegiate (72-72-76)
Abbey Carlson – 10th – Cougar Classic (70-68-74)
Abbey Carlson – 2019 Palmer Cup Team
Auston Kim – 2020 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Invitee
Abbey Carlson – 2020 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Invitee