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UCLA Women Win Pac-10 Golf Title

Coach sees hard work pay off as Bruins take the top two spots in individual competition.

April 22, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Five years' worth of questions accumulated inside Carrie Forsyth's mind -- a half-decade of doubts and fears about the direction of the UCLA women's golf program.

Solid play by the Bruins over the last two months has eased those thoughts, but a victory in the Pacific 10 Conference championships finally allowed Forsyth to let go.

UCLA shot a final-round 297 Wednesday at Saticoy Country Club in Somis, Calif., and finished with a three-day total of 38-over 902. It was good enough for an 18-stroke victory over runner-up California (defending national champion USC tied for fourth) and was all the confirmation Forsyth needed.

"I had these goals four or five years ago, and I put in so much time and it's like, 'Are we getting there? Are we getting there?' " said Forsyth, who took over as coach before the 1999-2000 season.

"There were a lot of times when I was thinking, 'Am I doing the right things here? Are these decisions that I'm making the right ones?' You just have to look in the mirror and say, 'Yeah, I'm doing what I think is best for the program.' "

The conference title is the first for UCLA since 1991, a team Forsyth played for when she was Carrie Leary.

Since then, UCLA has hit a stretch of mediocrity, finishing second in the Pac-10 three times, but never playing at a consistently high level.

This year, the team has clicked. Junior Charlotte Mayorkas shot 74-71-73 for a total of two-over-par 218 and won the individual title by two shots over UCLA freshman Hanna Jun. Strong play by Mayorkas has triggered a surge by UCLA, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation.

Mayorkas has won three consecutive tournaments and has posted eight consecutive top-10 finishes. She has four victories in her last five events. The Bruins have won three tournaments in a row and four of five.

"We've come a long way," Mayorkas said. "It's been a real struggle for a couple of years. This is a completely different team than it was my freshman year."

Then, the Bruins were searching for an identity. When Forsyth took over, UCLA was coming off consecutive fourth-place finishes in the Pac-10. The Bruins qualified for the NCAA finals in 1999 but missed the cut.

In 1998, they did not qualify for the finals for the first time since 1989. This was a former powerhouse in women's golf that won the national title in 1991 and had finished in the top 10 nine consecutive times.

Forsyth came armed only with three years of coaching experience at then-fledgling Cal State Northridge and rebuilt from the bottom up.

"It's hard," Forsyth said. "Nobody gives you a coaching handbook and tells you this is how you be a good coach."

Getting the players to believe in themselves was the first step. UCLA won small tournaments in each of Forsyth's first three years but never emerged as the national contender it once had been. Last year, the team had high hopes but failed to earn a victory.

A couple of top-three finishes during the fall were encouraging, but UCLA finally broke through with a significant victory Feb. 11 in the Regional Challenge. The Bruins won by 32 shots over a field that included national powers Arizona, California, New Mexico and USC.

"There were lots of little steps, but that was a big one," Mayorkas said. "Since then, our dedication and our motivation has increased by a billion."

The next step is the West Regional May 6-8 at Stanford. The NCAA finals are May 18-21 at Grand National Golf Club in Auburn, Ala. Forsyth didn't want to think that far ahead, preferring to enjoy the moment.

She cried for nearly an hour after the tournament ended Wednesday, and she choked back tears throughout her victory speech -- five years of pent-up emotion spilling out.

"That's what it is," Forsyth said. "That's exactly what it is."

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