ATHENS, Ga. – They came to play golf and to represent their schools and their state.
But when the news broke Monday of a terrible disaster on the home front, the women’s golf teams of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State felt a need to do so in an even more even-tempered and dignified manner than anything they had previously attempted. In that regard, their scores at the NCAA Division-I Women’s Championship on Tuesday meant little.
In the wake of Monday’s devastating tornado that left 24 dead, including nine children, in Moore, Okla., their actions and words meant more.
“All day, I just tried to keep it in perspective,” said Oklahoma senior Taylor Schmidt, who posted a 1-under-par 71 that represented her school’s best individual score and left her tied for sixth heading into Wednesday’s second round of the 72-hole tournament.
“I just kept thinking, ‘Don’t get upset about a bogey or a missed birdie putt – because we have people back at home who have lost their lives and families that are still looking for kids.’ I think all of us played for Oklahoma today and I think it fueled our energy. I think we used it in the right way.”
Oklahoma is located in Norman, Okla., and the best way to describe Moore is as a close neighboring town. Gerrod Chadwell, the Sooners’ assistant coach, lives very close to where the tornado tore through and was fortunate not to have his home hit. Other people he, Coach Veronique Druin-Luttrell and their players knew were not so lucky.
“It’s really sad. It kind of hit reality [Monday] when the girls were watching the news and you could see places they go to eat or where they go to movies and stuff,” Druin-Luttrell said. “So that was tough for them. But right now we just have to go out there and represent Oklahoma. We made it a little bit of a deal where we’re going to play for them and see what happens.”
The Sooners, ranked fourth in the nation, struggled as a team at the outset on Tuesday, but rallied down the stretch on the back nine. They finished 3-over-par and in eighth place out of the 24 teams after the first round.
And even though they are Big-12 in-state rivals and Oklahoma State is located in Stillwater, far away from where the tornado struck, there seemed to be a bond struck between coaches and players from the two schools during Tuesday’s competition. Oklahoma State struggled mightily and ended up 15-over-par and in 22nd at the end of the day.
But again, the scores didn’t seem to matter much.
“Everybody saw the coverage [Monday] night and it was just awful. Especially those kids in that school,” Oklahoma coach Alan Bratton said. “So hopefully everyone can pull together and help that community. This is the third time that’s happened to Moore, so it makes everyone – not just Oklahomans, but everyone – just count your blessings.”
“We just talked about perspective, and how we’re blessed to do what we do – and to never forget that.”
– Alan Bratton
Bratton said he pulled his team together before teeing off to deliver a message.
“We just talked about perspective, and how we’re blessed to do what we do – and to never forget that,” Bratton said. “I doubt it had much of an effect on us today. They know how to keep their mind on their business. It was in our state, but still quite a ways away.
“But I think the whole tournament had to be affected. That was world-wide news. We’ve got a bunch of international kids, and they talked about their families and all checked on them. So really what we did was just try to check our perspective and remember how blessed we all are to come and play in a golf tournament when other people have lost so much.”
The message was received by Julie Yang, an Oklahoma State freshman from Seoul, South Korea who shot a 2-over-par 74 Tuesday.
“Luckily I’ve been fortunate not to be close to any tornadoes since I’ve been in the States,” Yang said. “But although it only hit Moore, I think it affects everybody all over the [United] States. It makes you realize you’re very lucky and fortunate to still be alive and not going through what the families who have lost loved ones in the tornado. It makes you grateful for what you have.
“It’s hard to play golf if you can’t stay committed to it shot-by-shot and hole-by-hole. So I tried not to think of it too much. But right before I went on the course and right after I got off it, I started thinking about it again. It’s hard not to. It’s all over the news and it’s just a shocking disaster. So not just me, but our whole team has been thinking about it. It’s just very sad.”
Emily Collins, a junior for Oklahoma who also shot a 71 to tie her teammate Schmidt and 13 others for sixth, said, “It’s hard because we know a lot of people who lost a lot of things, and obviously it’s just devastating. But we’re just trying to play our game, and at the end of this we can say we played for them.”
Schmidt flashed the inside of her wrist, where she had written in black permanent marker: “PLAY-FOR-OK.”
“It’s unbelievable, but Oklahoma is a strong state with wonderful people,” Schmidt said. “I have no doubt that we’ll come together and get through it. I couldn’t be happier to be here representing OU and the people of Oklahoma as well. I hope I did them proud.”