BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Despite shattering the program’s best 54-hole Southeastern Conference Championship score this week, the Kentucky women’s golf team did not qualify for match play following the stroke-play portion of the league’s championship event.
The Wildcats totaled a 1-over-par 865 for the week, crushing their previous SEC Championship-low mark of 885 in 2017, but UK finished in 12th place, four spots back of the cut. The top eight teams after three rounds of stroke competition qualified for match play. No. 16 Arkansas, 13 shots ahead of Kentucky, claimed the eighth and final spot.
Fourth-ranked and stroke-play champion LSU (46-under par), top-ranked South Carolina, No. 9 Auburn, No. 6 Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and No. 23 Alabama – in that order of finish – are also moving on to the weekend.
“I am gutted for my team,” UK head coach Golda Borst said. “They have stayed committed to the process and they played as hard as they could. We just could not get the putts to drop. We were on our way the first day to a great round but couldn’t quite finish. After that we had a tough time getting our momentum going. We were prepared for this week and we beat our best three-day score in this event by 20 shots, but it just wasn’t enough to get us to where we need to be.
“This is disappointing and tough to take, but we will choose to grow from it and start getting ready for NCAAs in a few weeks. This team isn’t done yet and I’m excited to see where we take this heading into the next step of the postseason.”
It was a bittersweet end to the tournament for the Wildcats, who played well at times and posted plenty of birdies. Back-to-back 287s to open the tournament not only tied the best 18-hole scores of the 2020-21 season, they are also the program’s best 18-hole rounds in the 40-year history of the event. The 865 was also easily the best score of the season for Kentucky.
But UK will look back at what could have been. Kentucky was in first place midway through the first round at 9-under par and was taking advantage of a soft and scoreable track at the Greystone Golf & Country Club’s Legacy Course (par 72, 6,253 yards) in Birmingham, Alabama.
However, a 50-minute lightning delay on Wednesday halted the momentum and UK gave some shots back late in the first round. The second round was a bit of a grind, but the Wildcats gave themselves an opportunity heading into Friday’s finale, trailing three teams by five shots for eighth place.
Ultimately, Kentucky could not come up with the low score it needed Friday to qualify for match play for the first time in the three-year format, totaling a 3-over-par 291 in the third round. The 54-hole score of 865 was only seven shots off the school record, an 858 that was turned in on UK’s home course at the University Club during the 2018 Bettie Lou Evans Invitational.
It was a disappointing end to the week but not an end to the season. Entering the week ranked No. 35 in the Golfstat rankings, the Wildcats are a virtual lock for the NCAA postseason. The field for the May 10-12 NCAA Regionals will be announced on the Golf Channel on April 28. UK is looking to make NCAA Regionals for the seventh time in the 11-season Borst era.
Senior María Villanueva Aperribay capped the best event of her career with a 72 on Friday. Combined with her back-to-back 69s in the first two rounds, she finished with a score of 210, 6-under par. The 210 not only beat her previous best by eight shots, it was five shots off the school record of 205 by Leonie Bettel at the 2018 Bettie Lou.
Villanueva Aperribay ended up tying for 17th place for her third career top-20 finish and her best showing of the season. She carded three birdies, 12 pars and three bogeys in the final round.
The ever-steady Laney Frye continued her season-long solid play with a 1-under-par-215, setting a new 54-hole career low. With a 72 in the finale, the freshman moved into a tie with teammate Jensen Castle for the third-most rounds of par or better in single-season school history with 11. Castle set her mark in her freshman campaign last season.
Frye placed 35th and finished among the top two Wildcat performers for the eighth time in nine events this season. She continues to lead the team in just about every major statistical category this season, including stroke average.
Senior Rikke Svejgård Nielsen closed the SEC Championship with a 1-over-par 73 to finish at 2-over par. Continuing her late-season surge, her 54-hole score of 218 set a season-low mark for the second tournament in a row.
Svejgård Nielsen’s season-best score, however, was not her most noteworthy accomplishment of the week. After the tournament was over, she was named the 2021 SEC Women’s Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year after posting a 3.711 grade-point average with a major in agricultural and medical biotechnology and a minor in neuroscience. She is the third player in program history to win the award and the first since Mallory Blackwelder in 2009.
Castle tied for 56th at 7-over par after a 74 on Friday. Of note this week for UK’s single-season stroke average record holder, Castle’s perfect streak of rounds counted came to an end at 25 on Thursday. Dating back to last season, the streak had reached 38 consecutive rounds. She started a new one Friday.
Sophomore Marissa Wenzler rounded out the lineup for the Wildcats this week and tied for 63rd at 11-over par. She was consistent all week with a 76-75-76.
This week’s SEC Championship field featured eight teams ranked in the latest Golfstat top 25 and 12 in the top 50. Six of the top-25 teams moved on to the weekend.
For the latest on the Kentucky women’s golf team, follow the team on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as on the web at UKathletics.com.