Gettin With the Program

A little more than two years ago, the scramble began for Carrie Leary.

Hired in June, 1996, by Cal State Northridge to coach the resurrected women's golf team, Leary had nothing.

No players, no schedule, no practice facilities.

She had three scholarships in her hand and frantically searched for players to give them to.

But Leary kept plugging away. She signed a player here and a player there. She made arrangements with country clubs for practice times and, this year, for the first time in her three seasons, managed to get a schedule set before the season.

With three years of recruits in place, Leary can concentrate on getting the program rolling toward respectability instead of her frantic struggle to stay afloat in a sea of red tape.

"It's really hard to start a program," Leary said. "To get players to come where there's no history, it's a tough sell. This year I have a little more of a sense of stability. I have a better idea of how to coach and everything is much more settled."

A far cry from where she was trying to build a program that was axed in 1979.

Leary managed to sign two players that first year--Bonnie Murphy and Kelly Foster--and rustled up three students who already attended Northridge so she could field the NCAA-minimum of five players.

The results weren't pretty.

The average score per player that year was 99.6. Team scores upward of 380--nearly 100 strokes over par--were not uncommon. Two players averaged over 100 for the season, one of them had a low round of 107.

But last year, the team showed some signs it was ready to play competitively.

Cheryl Musser, an Alemany High graduate and once a top junior golfer, transferred from San Diego State.

Leary signed Allyson Mallory of San Diego.

The Matadors finished third in the season-opening Grizzly Fall Classic, and third at the season-ending Santa Clara Colby Invitational.

Their other seven tournaments were a little messy, but certainly nothing like that first year.

"We could've done a little better," Leary said. "Our lack of experience hurt."

There is only one senior on the team but lack of experience no longer qualifies as an excuse. The top eight players are back.

"Everybody who returns qualified for at least one tournament last year," Leary said. "That experience is really going to make a difference."

Musser, who averaged 80.2 last year, was the top Matador in eight of nine tournaments and had three top-10 finishes, including third at the Grizzly Fall Classic. Her 75 in the first round of that tournament was the lowest score of the season by a Matador.

Kimberly Kelly, a junior from Granite Bay, Calif., was second with an 84.4 scoring average, just ahead of Mallory (84.5).

Kelly had a season-best finish of 10th in the Santa Clara tournament and had three rounds under 80, with a low of 76.

Mallory had a strong finish, tying for sixth at the Santa Clara Colby Invitational.

Freshman Kelly Carlson, from Lindsay, shot 74 and tied for 15th in the CIF-SCGA championship in June.

Leary expects her to have an immediate impact.

"Everything is getting a lot easier," Leary said. "I think the program has a good image. We're definitely starting to attract better quality players. Some of the girls realize they don't have to go to a big name school, just as long as they are happy. Here they have a better chance to experience more tournament play."

Leary, who played on UCLA's 1991 NCAA championship team, knows what it takes to build a winner. She has set moderate goals, hoping to build on last year's improvement.

Goal No. 1 is to finish in the top three at the Big Sky Conference tournament. The Matadors finished eighth of nine teams last year.

Goal No. 2 is to win a tournament.

Goal No. 3 is to help each other grow as golfers.

Just so there are no more growing pains.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World