Vanderbilt golf team 'heads' into NCAA championship with confidence

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 7:43pm

Greg Allen might be wearing a visor all week. Even if he dons a cap, though, he can’t escape the mullet.

The hair style wouldn’t be the Vanderbilt women’s golf coach’s first choice, but it is the price he has to pay for making a bet with his team. It is one he’ll gladly own up to considering how his team earned the right to do his 'do.

Allen hadn’t cut his hair since before Christmas. Prior to the Southeastern Conference tournament, freshman Rene Sobolewski wanted to shave her coach’s locks, which Allen said were getting “pretty shaggy.”

“I would come out each morning on road trips and put all kinds of gel in it to just give me a different look,” Allen, who is in his fourth year as head coach, said. “I would part it down the middle. I would slick it back. They absolutely hated it.”

So Allen and his players struck a deal. He would let them shave it if the Commodores reached the NCAA Championship.

On May 7, Vanderbilt clinched its second straight trip to the national tournament and sixth in school history in dramatic fashion. The Commodores outlasted Florida State in a sudden-death playoff for the eighth and final spot out of the East Regional and advanced to the NCAA Championship.

Play begins Wednesday in the 24-team tournament, which runs through Saturday in College Station, Texas — where the Commodores placed sixth in the NCAA Fall Preview tournament earlier this season.

Therefore, last week, Allen handed the razor over to his team. Not all of his locks are gone, but an “interesting” style is the result.

“I describe it as a party in the front and a party in the back,” senior Megan Grehan said. “It has a little poof in the front and then I don’t know what is going on in the back. But it looks interesting. It is definitely unique. No other coach has this haircut.”

Added Allen: “It is a pretty classic hairdo. I grew up in Kentucky so I have sported a mullet back in the day. ... It became something funny and I think helped them relax them a little bit and get their minds off the stress and pressure. So they had a good time with it.”

The pressure was on two weeks ago when the Commodores were trying to qualify for the national tournament. Heading into the third hole of the third and final round, they were tied for eighth. But Vanderbilt had two triple bogeys and a double bogey.

“I felt like we were letting it slip away,” Allen said.

But the Commodores put together a string of birdies, including four by Sobolweski over the last 17 holes, to put the team just two strokes behind Florida State with three holes remaining. The Seminoles’ top finisher Jessica Negron bogeyed twice down the stretch, resulting in a playoff between the two schools.

In the playoff, Sobolewski made the only birdie, which gave Vanderbilt a one-stroke advantage. Marina Alex needed to sink a four-foot putt to save the par and seal the victory. It was a shot at redemption for Alex, who missed a similar putt on her 18th hole that — it turned out — would have propelled the Commodores to the win in regulation.

That was ancient history, though, as she made the playoff putt.

“It was just a great feeling,” Allen said. “I had never been in a team playoff as a coach and they were just calm and were relaxed and having fun the entire week, especially that day. It is a day I will never forget, the way they came through in the clutch and the way they never let anything get to them.”

It was almost fitting the way Vanderbilt qualified, considering it hadn’t finished higher than sixth as a team at any tournament this season.

Allen chalks some of that up to a demanding class work load that “maybe at times it takes away a little bit of their focus on the golf course because they know they have to get home and do a project or study for an exam.”

The Commodores are flying high right now, though. With school over for the semester, they can use the momentum gained from the regional and try to take a “bulletproof” approach into the last tournament of the season.

“The playoff was awesome and it was better than just qualifying at any spot,” Alex said. “It brought us together and it kind of allowed us to prove to ourselves that we are capable of anything we set our minds to. It gives us a really good feeling going into this week.”

Vanderbilt placed seventh as a team last year and has never placed higher than fifth at the NCAA Championship. The top four teams receive trophies and Allen said he would like to bring back some hardware to Vanderbilt.

If the Commodores can do that, Allen said he’d let the team take the rest off the top.

“He would look great bald,” Alex said. “I think he would be a great bald man.”

Briefly

• The team will wear a logo on its uniforms in memory of Mason Rudolph, who died last month at the age of 76 due to heart complications.

Rudolph, a native of Clarksville, coached the Vanderbilt men’s golf team from 1992-97 and was the director of golf after that, taking on an emeritus role in 2002. He built up friendships with Allen and several members of the women’s team, and Vanderbilt plays a tournament in his name every fall at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.

The Commodores also wore the patch at the East Regional.

“It just felt like he was with us in spirit,” Allen said. “Two triples and a double bogey on the back nine and still advancing to nationals. That takes something pretty special.

• Adam Hofmann will be the lone representative of the Vanderbilt men’s golf team when he tees off on Thursday at East Regional in Radford, Va.

Hofmann, a junior from Pittsburgh will be making his first appearance at a regional. He finished the season with a 73.3 stroke average and captured the individual championship at the Hummingbird Intercollegiate in January in Cashiers, N.C.

• The Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin will host next year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Championship. The tournament will take place from May 23-26, 2012.