Over the years, the Cougar Classic has been able to attract some of the top women’s college golf programs in the country.
But this year’s 20-team field might be the most competitive in the tournament’s history, said College of Charleston women’s golf coach Jamie Futrell.
Fifteen of the 20 teams that will take part in the 54-hole event at Yeamans Hall Club in Hanahan were represented at the 2013 NCAA Regionals. Seven of the twenty, including defending tournament champion Florida, were in GolfWeek’s Top-30 preseason rankings — No. 14 Florida, No. 19 Baylor, No. 20 South Carolina, No. 21 Clemson, No. 24 LSU, No. 25 N.C. State, No. 30 Mississippi State.
The tournament, which is free to the public, is set to start on Sunday at 8 a.m. and will conclude Tuesday afternoon.
“This is a wide-open field,” Futrell said. “This might be the strongest field we’ve ever had here. There are five or six different teams that can win it, and the talent of the individual players and teams speak for themselves. This is a great event and a great early test for our team.”
One of those teams — Clemson — is making its program debut. The Tigers have spent the last two years recruiting players and building their program in preparation for their inaugural season.
“Clemson did it the right way,” Futrell said. “They didn’t just throw their freshman out there. They’ve been recruiting for a couple of years and they’ve got a great team. These are not your typical freshmen. They’ve played at a very high level and they are not going to be intimidated by their surroundings. They’ve got a very competitive team. I think it’s a real feather in our caps to get them down here to play in their first event as a program.”
All four of the true freshmen from Clemson are ranked in the top 50 of the Golfweek Junior rankings for the class of 2013.
“The Cougar Classic is one of the best tournaments in the country,” said Clemson coach J. T. Horton. “It’s been a traditional powerhouse women’s event and it is at a great course in Yeamans Hall. I think it’s one of the best courses not only in the Southeast but in the country.”
The 21st-ranked Tigers feature the top amateur player in the world in freshman Ashlan Ramsey. Ramsey is coming off of a fantastic summer that included four wins, two runner-up finishes and solid performances in the U.S Amateur and the PING Junior Solheim Cup.
“Ashlan has a chance to win this tournament,” Futrell said.
Katelyn Dambaugh, of Goose Creek, will be making her college debut for South Carolina and will play in the No. 1 spot for the Gamecocks.
The Cougars’ top returning player is Julia Neumann, who won the Kiawah Classic, and averaged 75.43 per round a year ago as a freshman.
“She’s one of the steadiest players I’ve ever been around,” Futrell said. “Nothing seems to bother her. She doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The Cougars feature their own freshman sensation in Laura Fuenfstueck, of Frankfurt, Germany. Fuenfstueck is ranked No. 28 player in the world.
“Laura is a very strong player and I think she has the potential to be in the hunt on the final day of the tournament,” Futrell said.
The best finish for the Cougars came in 2009 when they took eighth place.
“We’ve had a couple of really good weeks of practice and I know the girls are ready for this,” Futrell said. “If we play to our capabilities I’m confident we can get a good result.”
Florida’s Camilla Hedberg returns to defend her individual crown after tying a Cougar
Classic record last season when she shot a 13-under par total of 203. LSU’s Austin Ernst also shot 203 on her way to victory in 2011.
Other teams include Auburn, LSU, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, N.C. State, Penn State, Tennessee, UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest and Wisconsin.