By Julie Williams
Intensity is etched into Justine Dreher’s face even when she’s not on the golf course. It was there when she came off the Reunion Resort’s 18th green on Sunday after the first round of the ANNIKA Intercollegiate with 4-under 68 and still there on Monday after she posted 68 again. After 36 holes at the ANNIKA, Dreher tops the individual leaderboard and her team leads by two shots.
Dreher’s start at the ANNIKA, her first start in burgundy this fall, is spurred by annoyance and maybe some impatience. Several players at Reunion have stories of competing for their respective nations at the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan last month. Dreher wanted to go for France, but wasn’t selected for the team.
“I had a decent summer but I didn’t do as well as I wanted,” she said. She points specifically to the European Ladies’ Amateur in Estonia in July, where she finished T-53.
It’s been a long month in Columbia, S.C., practicing and qualifying and waiting to compete. Dreher says she didn’t perform as well as she would have liked in qualifying. In competition, however, Dreher keeps making birdies. She has 10 so far, and two bogeys.
From a player standpoint, a month of school before teeing it up in competition for the first time can be brutal. From head coach Kalen Harris’ perspective, it’s a blessing.
“I’ve felt more prepared with this team than any other,” said Harris, now into year No. 8 as head coach.
In describing the dynamic of her Gamecocks in the past few years, Harris has often said that there’s no superstar on her team. Last season, when South Carolina won twice, four players averaged 74 or better. Dreher was the low Gamecock six times, and dropped her scoring average two shots from freshman year.
Dreher’s intensity is perfect for maintaining a competitive culture at South Carolina. She still talks like a mother hen. So far, her role on the team has been helping freshmen Nanna Madsen and Ainhoa Olarra get adjusted.
Of the two newcomers, only Madsen traveled to Reunion with the team, and posted rounds of 69-75. Madsen, of Denmark, entered college as Golfweek’s top-ranked freshman – she is ranked No. 4 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. She just couldn’t get putts to drop on Monday.
“It’s unbelievable how good she is,” Dreher says.
For Madsen, it’s unbelievable how good team golf can be.
“I like to have people to share the winnings and the good things with,” she said.
With the second-round lead at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, South Carolina sheds more of its underdog status. The same teams tend to contend for the national championship and fill up the top-10 ranking spots in women’s golf, and Dreher says South Carolina, under Harris’ direction, will get there.
“(South Carolina) doesn’t have a very broad history,” Dreher said. “Since (Harris) has been the coach here, our program has gotten so much better.”
The key to South Carolina’s dynamic, Dreher says, is that the roster “changes all the time,” evidenced by Dreher qualifying into the No. 4 spot, only to lead the tournament by four shots.
The Gamecocks will enter the final round of the ANNIKA with six teams trailing them by seven or fewer shots. South Carolina leads Arizona by one shot, Northwestern by three and last year’s powerhouse USC by six.
“The lead is a nice place to be in this type of field,” Harris said. “…This group is well-prepared and it’s a great experience to get this early.”