Virginia golfer hits high note in first round of NCAA women's golf championship

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 11:34pm

When Portland Rosen starts to tense up on the golf course, she sings to calm her nerves.

On Tuesday as the University of Virginia sophomore opened up the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, she began humming “Just Another Day in Paradise” by Phil Vassar.

The song couldn’t have been more appropriate. For one, the genre of music fit the setting — the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin sits near the epicenter of country music. Secondly, Rosen was in her own utopia after she carded a school-record 6-under par 66 and took a one-stroke lead after the first round.

“I now believe what everyone says when they say they get in a zone or a trance,” a giddy Rosen told reporters after her birdie on the 18th hole. “I was definitely in that. I still feel in it. I’m very calm.”

Rosen and the Cavaliers jumped in front of the 24-team field — temporarily. Sophomore Elizabeth Brightwell’s opening round of 71 was disqualified after she signed an incorrect scorecard. Her actual score was 72, but she signed for a four on the fourth hole when she actually shot a five.

Instead of a four-stroke lead, Virginia sits at even-par — two shots behind leader Alabama (-2) and just ahead of Duke (+1) and North Carolina (+2). 
Brightwell is ineligible for the individual title but can contribute to the team score in the last three rounds.

“I feel bad for Elizabeth and bad for the team,” Virginia coach Kim Lewellen said. “We just have to go out there and keep playing.”

Vanderbilt coach Greg Allen echoed those thoughts to his team.

The host Commodores got off to a dreadful start. They shot an 18-over 306, tied for 22nd. Two-time SEC Player of the Year and national title contender Marina Alex stumbled at the fourth hole with a triple bogey. The senior played catch-up from there, gaining back two strokes before bogeying three of the final four holes to finish in a tie for 85th with a 5-over 77. Junior Lauren Stratton and freshman Kendall Martindale each shot a three-over 75 to place 47th.

“I’m probably more disappointed in our body language than anything,” Allen said. “The way we were walking around, that’s something we can control. You’re going to miss shots and miss putts, but the way you handle yourself out there is something we talked about [before the tournament].

“I told them to get mad [Tuesday night] or whatever they need to do. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Rosen’s body language was positive right from the start. Shortly after 7:30 a.m., she used a 5-iron on her 171-yard, second shot at the par-4 first hole.

She couldn’t see the result. Her father, Rocket, did.

“He started jumping up and down and yelling, ‘It’s in! It’s in! It’s in!’ " Rosen said. “But he always does that and I didn’t believe him. Then I heard another person say, ‘It’s in!’ So it was a good way to start the day.”

The Texas native kept rolling from there. Using a new belly putter named “Batman” by Lewallen for its similarities to the Dark Knight, Rosen shot a 29 on the front nine and dominated the greens with five birdies. It was in stark contrast to two weeks ago when Rosen struggled with a long putter, shot 28-over par and finished 101st at the East Regional.

“It worked [Tuesday] like a superhero,” Lewallen said. “As soon as she put it in her hand she significantly started rolling the ball better.”

Rosen, Virginia’s No. 5 golfer who finished 102nd at the 2011 NCAA Championship, capped the day off with a 12-foot putt to seal her first 66 since high school. She has a slim one-shot lead over Laura Gonzalez of Purdue. North Carolina’s Catherine O’Donnell and Brooke Pancake of Alabama are third after shooting four-under 68s.

The teams begin teeing off at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Vanderbilt and Tennessee, which is in 16th place, take the course around 8:30 a.m.