GREENVILLE, S.C. – No. 8 Furman will begin its quest to defend the league title Sunday at the 2018 Southern Conference Women's Golf Championship at the par 72, 6,105 yard Moss Creek Golf Club's South Course on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Furman, which captured its 16th Southern Conference Championship and third-straight title in 2017, won nine straight SoCon titles from 1994-2002. Last season the Paladins scored a 280 in the opening round, the best round in tournament history, and placed an unprecedented six players on the All-Southern Conference Team.
The Paladins have produced a league-best 15 individual medalists at past tournaments, including sophomore Natalie Srinivasan, who won the tournament in 2017 and went on to claim SoCon Freshman of the Year honors. Paladin senior Alice Chen was honored as the league freshman of the year in 2015 and captured co-player of the year accolades in 2016. Furman has won the last four freshman of the year awards, with Taylor Totland winning in 2014, Chen in 2015, current junior Haylee Harford claiming the award in 2016, and Srinivasan earning the honor last season.
"We are very excited to compete for the SoCon Championship," said Paladin head coach Jeff Hull, who was chosen the 2017 SoCon Coach of the Year. "We have had a great year, and everyone is playing well going into the event. The conference championship is very important to us, and we hope to come home with the trophy."
Furman's lineup for the 2018 championships will include Srinivasan, Harford, Chen, and seniors Reona Hirai and Jacqueline Bendrick. The Paladins, who have won three tournament titles in 2017-18 and finished as runner-up in three additional tournaments, boast the best scoring average in the SoCon this season with a team stroke average of 289.5. Furman has finished among the top three teams at six of nine tournaments this year.
Srinivasan, who landed a spot on both the All-SoCon Team and the SoCon All-Freshman Team in 2017, leads the Paladins and ranks second in the SoCon with a 72.12 stroke average over 27 rounds this season. She ranks 22nd nationally, tops among all SoCon players. Srinivasan has finished among the top three at four tournaments this season, and has five top-5 finishes and six top-10 finishes in nine tournaments during her sophomore campaign.
Harford, who earned an WGCA All-America second team citation and was selected to the Golfweek All-America third team last season, is second on the Furman team and third in the league with a 72.62 stroke average over 26 rounds this year. A two-time All-SoCon selection, Harford finished eighth at the 2017 NCAA Championships. She finished as runner-up at the Lady Paladin Invitational in September and the Betsy Rawls Invitational in October. Harford, who ranks 44th nationally, has finished among the top 10 individuals in four tournaments this season and among the top 20 in six of nine tournaments.
Chen, a three-time All-SoCon honoree, ranks 51st nationally and is third on the Furman team and fourth in the SoCon with a 72.85 stroke average over 26 rounds during her senior season. She won individual medalist honors at the Moon Golf Invitational and tied for fourth at the Lady Paladin Invitational. Chen has placed among the top ten in three of nine tournaments this season.
Hirai ranks fourth on the Paladin team and fifth in the league with a 73.38 stroke average and has appeared in all 26 rounds for Furman this season. She recorded a career-best fifth-place finish at the SunTrust Women's Gator Invitational then fired a career-low 67 in the opening round of the Clemson Invitational, where she finished in a tie for 10th. Hirai, who ranks 62nd nationally, has four top-20 finishes as a senior this season.
Bendrick boasts a 74.58 stroke average over 26 rounds this season, ranking fifth on the Furman team and sixth in the SoCon. She has finished among the top 10 in three of five tournaments this spring and matched her career-best with a seventh-place finish at the Clemson Invitational.
The SoCon has three teams ranked among the top 100 in Golfstat's most recent ranking. Furman is the top-ranked league team this season, checking into the Golfstat ratings at No. 8 nationally, while Chattanooga enters the championship at No. 74. Mercer is rated 78th.
The winner of the SoCon Championship will earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA field will be announced live on the Golf Channel at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, April 25.
Furman will tee off of No. 1 Sunday beginning at 8:50 a.m. in the first round of the 54-hole tournament. Admission to the tournament is free and fans are welcome. Live scoring for the tournament will be available at www.FurmanPaladins.com or at www.BirdieFire.com.
Julie Paré, Furman Sports Information