Consistent success from underclassmen key to Ole Miss women’s golf NCAA run

Posted on May 16 2019 - 9:21am by Joshua Clayton

Macy Somoskey had been down the whole day. Facing off against South Carolina’s Lois Kaye Go, she clawed her way back down the stretch in the final round of match play in the SEC Championship. With a win on hole 15, Somoskey brought herself within one hole and when it came down to the 18th green, she lined up a putt to extend the match and keep the Rebels and in the hunt for their first SEC title in program history.

“I had been down the whole day so I was like ‘you know what this has been a good match, she’s a really good player, I mean we’re in the finals this is great,” Somoskey said on the moment before the putt.

After a long, do or die, snake of a putt from the opposite side of the green dropped in the hole, to thunderous roar and applause, she had one thought:

“Oh god, now I’ve got to go play more golf”

Somsokey went on to play 22 holes in the round to get the edge over Lois Kaye Go and make history with the Rebels’ first conference tournament win and second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

“It was just pure joy being able to go out and do that,” she said. “We were 100% the underdogs the entire time so I think also it made a statement that the Ole Miss program is on the rise.”

Somoskey helped the Rebels secure an eighth-place finish in stroke play of the SEC Championship. With the top-eight teams advancing, Ole Miss earned the bottom seed and a date with the top-seeded Florida Gators in match play. The Rebels outplayed Florida and No. 5 seed Georgia to get to the finals. Somsokey played a combined 66 holes in match play, going for extra holes in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

“It’s just great to see them be able to finish it out because we’ve been working on that a lot this year, just being able to finish strong on those last few holes,” head coach Kory Henkes said.

Somoskey’s performance in Birmingham personified what has been a theme for this team throughout the season, and especially in the last few weeks. The squad thrives under pressure and specializes in grinding out tough wins.

Fast forward a week and the Rebels found themselves jockeying for position in the Norman Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss was tied for third behind a pair of 71 scores from Ellen Hutchinson-Kay and Kennedy Swann, but dropped to a tie for sixth after a 295 team score put them 5 over par at the end of the second round. The team had work to do to be one of the top-6 teams to advance to nationals.

The Rebels saw themselves go in and out of the top-six in the third and final round of the regional. After shooting 290 as a team they were able to finish 7-over par, good for sixth place, punching their ticket to a second-consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship.

“It definitely was little stressful there for a while,” Henkes said. “We just kind of had a gameplan. I walked with Conner Beth (Ball) all day and coach Zack (Byrd) had different holes we thought he’d be helpful on. We honestly just kept our composure.”

Henkes’ gameplan resulted in another trip to the NCAA Championship. The fourth-year coach’s continued success gave Ole Miss its first bid in program history last year and with a young team, she was able to lean on sophomores like Conner Beth Ball and Julia Johnson to return. The two were heavy contributors during last year’s postseason run and have claimed leadership roles throughout the season.

Johnson’s consistent play during the season earned her Second-Team All-SEC honors this season. She led the Rebels in the SEC Championship with a runner-up finish individually. The former SEC Freshman of the Year from St. Gabriel, Louisiana, has been the top finisher for the Rebels in seven of their 14 tournaments in the 2018–19 season.

“I pride myself in being a steady player, trying to lead by example and do things right on the golf course,” Johnson said.

Conner Beth Ball has been a force throughout the year. The Starkville native has played in every tournament this season with four top finishes for the Rebels.

“I think my position on the team is a little more of the hype man, the energizer,” Ball said. “I try and keep it positive and help (the young players) know that even though they’re young they can be leaders and accomplish anything. The freshmen do a really great job of that. It’s really impressive to see how mature they are and how hard-working they are.”

Sophomore Conner Beth Ball swings the club at The Bruzzy Challenge in Argyle, Texas earlier this week. She finished eighth in the final standings. Photo courtesy Ole Miss Athletics.

This leadership was vital for the team when they came back for the busy spring semester after a less-than-spectacular team showing in the fall tournaments. Johnson and the rest of the team said something clicked in the team in Argyle, Texas. The Rebels braved through tough conditions to finish runner-up at The Bruzzy behind great performances from Johnson and Ball alongside career-best rounds from freshmen Ellen Hutchinson-Kay and Somoskey. This was a revitalized team heading into the conference play.

Headlining that team was junior Kennedy Swann. The Austin, Texas, native has consistently seen her name near the top of the leaderboards since she transferred to Ole Miss just before the spring semester. Swann was a two-year starter at Clemson before arriving in Oxford, appearing in the NCAA Tournament both years, so Henkes wasn’t surprised to see that she had stepped up on the big stage.

“Kennedy’s a great player. She’s played at a high level when she was at Clemson. She’s played in regionals before and she knows how to handle pressure, and knows what it takes to be one of the best,” Henkes said. “I think what she brought was a competitiveness to her. She’s extremely feisty on the golf course so I think she has really pushed her teammates so there’s no room for complacency.”

Macy Somoskey also burst onto the scene during the spring semester. The freshman started competing as an individual and eventually made her way into the lineup before coming up big in the SEC Championship in heroic fashion. The Sanford, Florida, native said she regained confidence in her swing after working with Mike Bender back at home during the break.

“Basically, when I got to Ole Miss, I was by far the worst on the team,” Somoskey said, causing her teammates to laugh in the background. “I had to change a lot of things about myself to get to where I could make the travel team and a lot of that had to do with how I practiced. I started having way more focused practices.”

With the young team at her helm, head coach Kory Henkes doesn’t think this success will be a short-term phenomenon. Henkes said she wants it to become a new normal around Oxford and with the buzz around the program since the rise of Braden Thornberry last year and the success of both golf teams this season, she could be on to something.

The next step to consistent success in the coming years will be at the Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where the Rebels will compete in the NCAA Championship starting Friday, March 17.

“In the past we haven’t really been known for golf. It’s been a lot of other sports that were great at Ole Miss, but now we’re becoming a golf school, Henkes said. “It’s really cool to see the men’s and women’s programs working collectively together as a program. We truly are a family.”