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Braves battle weather in first tournament back from break, finish ninth

The Bradley women’s golf team traveled to Arizona this past weekend to take part in the Rio Verde Invite held by Western Michigan, finishing ninth of 18 participating teams. 

The Braves were forced to adjust to the elements. Five inches of rain on Saturday forced them to play 36 holes on Sunday, resulting in a long back half. But, Bradley rose to the challenge, as sophomore Megan Welch matched a career-best, finishing at even par-72 the final two rounds.

Two questions may arise ­— Western Michigan holding a tournament in Arizona? Five inches of rain in the desert? Though the rain may have been abnormal for the season, the tournament host and location were not.

“A lot of northern teams especially host down south in the spring,” head coach Halley Morell said. “Once they get it going with the course, they realize it might be a good place to host and have really good communication with the head pro.”

In addition, Morell said the team stays with families around the area since it is a retirement community. 

But, this was a business trip for the women’s golf team, not a vacation. The Braves got off to a slow start on Friday, tied for 15th after 18 holes. However, then the rain hit and Bradley started to turn things around. 

All six golfers improved upon their first-round scores, with 10 of the 12 18-hole rounds lower than the first. Welch was one golfer who capitalized on the rain, finishing at even-par twice to finish out the tournament after a first round 79.

Senior Taylor Ledwein also carded par in her second round, helping the Braves make their jump in the standings. 

“The course drained better than we thought,” Morell said. “We played lift, clean and place on Sunday since the course was still a little muddy, but it didn’t affect much.”

For those unfamiliar with golf terminology, the idea of lift, clean and place is exactly what it sounds like. Golfers are allowed to lift and clean their potentially muddy ball on fairways only. The rule rewards accurate shots, as balls hit into the rough are not awarded such perks.

The Braves had not practiced on real grass in quite some time. Welch said she was happy to be outside in warmer weather, even if the course was hard.

“The course was fairly tight and there was a lot of trouble that we could get ourselves into, so I think one of things that helped me the most this weekend was how accurate I was off the tee,” Welch said.

They’ve come a long way since the MVC Preview back in late September and now Welch believes the team can compete for the conference tournament in mid-April. In Rio Verde, Bradley finished three strokes better than Missouri State and five better than Illinois State as a team. 

“We’ve just grown exponentially. Taylor [Ledwein] came back from an injury, all the girls have been working really hard, constantly fighting for the lead,” Morell said. “They’re learning how to handle the bigger game time pressure situations and I think it’s going to translate to the scores.”

With the first tournament of the spring in the books, it’s safe to say the Braves have knocked the rust off and are ready to continue the strong play they flashed in the fall.

Bradley has a week off before traveling to University North Carolina March 9 and 10 to participate in the River Landing Classic.

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