Gophers golf: Simley grad Isabella McCauley confident, rolling heading into NCAA Regional

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After a 41st-place finish at the Annika Invitational to kick off her collegiate career last the fall, University of Minnesota freshman Isabella McCauley went to the Gophers coaching staff and simply said, “I’ve got to be better.”

Gophers coach Rhyll Brinsmead noted McCauley posted “some good numbers” in the fall, “but there was a little learning.” Learning about what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level, where McCauley — a former Minnesota high school state champion from Simley who qualified and competed in a U.S. Open as a high school junior — is again a small fish in a big pond.

The courses are difficult, as is the competition. But the reality is McCauley is used to all of those things from past experiences, and more than capable of performing at the level necessary to succeed. She just maybe needed to remember that.

“She’s not the longest player in college golf, but what she does well is what she’s got to keep doing well, which is her accuracy and short game, her ability to get up and down. She’s a phenomenal putter and spends a lot of time working on that, so I think for her it was learning just to focus on what she’s good at, and not get distracted by, ‘Oh, I’m playing with these girls ranked in the top 10, and they’re doing this and I’m doing that,’ ” Brinsmead said. “It was just learning how to be competitive on a longer golf course and tougher conditions, 36-hole golf days and the traveling and the balance with the school work and the social side of it, it’s just a learning piece, but she’s done very well with it.”

Well enough to the point that McCauley and fellow Gophers freshman Luisamariana Mesones — McCauley’s close friend — earned spots in the NCAA Westfield Regional, which starts Monday in Indiana. The top two individual finishers from that will earn spots in the NCAA Championship Finals in a couple weeks in Scottsdale, Ariz. On the men’s side, Gophers junior Ben Warian, a Stillwater native and Hill-Murray grad, was selected to compete in a regional in Michigan next week.

As for McCauley’s chances of advancing, Brinsmead texted the freshman’s mom last week suggesting she check out air flight prices to Arizona.

“Because there’s a good chance she does enough to get through, which is exciting,” the coach said.

Particularly with how the freshman is playing at the moment. McCauley is coming off a Big Ten Championship performance in which she finished in a tie for second. McCauley was named second-team All-Big Ten this season after earning five top 10s during the season while averaging 72.9 strokes per round. That includes a 63 on the scorecard earlier this season, the second-lowest score in school history.

McCauley is ranked 93rd in the country by Golf Stat.

“I think this spring has been really good for the progression of her game,” Brinsmead said. “You can see the work she did this spring has sort of come to fruition, particularly the last six weeks. … It’s just remarkable for a freshman. So yeah, she’s definitely put in the work to achieve these results. It just doesn’t happen.”

That includes the freshman completing the team-required drills throughout training periods, most of which take place indoors, only to return to the facility later in the day to do her own drills. McCauley has always been a tireless worker.

“I think she’s really just found her identity, and it was always there, I think it was just, ‘Hey, I am good enough to be here and I can compete with anybody,’ ” Brinsmead said. “It’s fun to watch a player just sort of enjoy it and stick to what they do well, and it’s contagious amongst the team, which has been really great, too.”

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