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Racers coast to Jan Weaver Invitational title

By EDWARD MARLOWE emarlowe@paducahsun.com

MURRAY -- Consistency, confidence and an affinity to keep things calm are three keys in maintaining a good golf game.

And on a perfect Saturday afternoon at Miller Memorial Golf Course, Murray State women's golf exuded all three qualities in the 15th Annual Jan Weaver Invitational by coming away with a 24-shot team victory over a field of 10 schools.

Behind a 299-297-297-893, the Racers came away with their third-straight tournament victory and fifth of the 2016-17 regular season, topping second-place Western Kentucky (917), third-place Arkansas State (921) and fourth-place Louisiana-Monroe (934) for top billing.

MSU junior Moa Folke - last year's defending individual medalist - earned the co-title with fellow teammate and sophomore Linette Holmslykke, as the pair each fired a three-round 222 on their home course.

MSU freshman Lucila Puente finished tied for third and just two shots back, adding a team-low 73 on Saturday for a 224 overall.

And while the Racers held a 22-shot lead over the field after two windy rounds on Friday, longtime MSU women's golf coach Velvet Milkman said it was the perseverance and maturity of her club that helped keep a strong finish in focus.

"I'm really, really pleased with what the players did," she said. "(Friday) is what put us in this position. Friday was very hard, and they persevered and showed physical and mental toughness, and that's what helped us to the victory today."

With a softer breeze and a cloudless sky, MSU's top four scores of Saturday came from Holmslykke (73), Puente (73), Folke (74) and junior Anna Moore (77). Holmslykke pocketed a birdie on the 310-yard No. 11 and fell short with bogeys on the 165-yard No. 9 and the par-5 No. 13.

Folke was just as steady - earning bogeys on Nos. 6, 8, 14 and 18 but balancing with birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 17.

"It was comforting having that 22-stroke lead," Folke said. "We knew that teams would have to do something absolutely fantastic in order to catch up.

"It's the real good consistency across the team, and that everyone is able to put good numbers in. We also have somebody that will usually go low. That's what it takes."

Added Holmslykke: "It's already really hard to focus because we practice here every single day, and suddenly you have to go in tournament mode and you think, 'Oh, I have to get my head into it.

"We just ground it out. We really did."

Moore went 77-74-77 for a 228, while another MSU freshman in Raeysha Surendran added a three-day 232 to the mix. This was Murray State's ninth victory in 15 tries at its home tournament.

This is the second time in program history MSU has collected five regular-season wins, and it first occurred during the 2013-14 season under the steady hand of former clubhouse leader Delaney Howson.

OVC tourney nears

Murray State's run over the last month is coming at an opportune time, with the Ohio Valley Conference Championships set to begin on April 17 at Hampton Cove Golf Course in Owens Crossroads, Alabama.

They always say the end of the regular season is a perfect time to peak, and Milkman thinks no differently than the norm.

"It does feel right, and what feels right about it is that when you win, you gain confidence," she said. "Confidence is huge in golf. It is very, very important, and the more that we're successful, that's more confidence that we have and that's going to feed on into next week - we hope."

Folke was the OVC Tournament individual champion last year as a sophomore, but the Racers haven't won the team title since 2014.

Milkman - Murray State's first and only women's golf coach - has guided the Racers to nine titles in her tenure, but quickly admitted a 10th would be just as nice as it would be difficult.

"Winning a tournament is hard work," she added. "This team is very talented. They're all talented in their own way. I do feel like this team is probably the deepest I've ever had, but I've got more players now than I have in years past.

"But the depth on this team makes us better."

Golf without borders

Milkman seems like the Gregg Popovich of the Ohio Valley Conference - and not just for the number of championships.

Much like the NBA head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Milkman often employs a strong blend of both local and international talent to make up her teams. This season, it's Folke (Sweden), Holmslykke (Denmark), Puente (Spain), Surendran (Malaysia) and Moore (Hopkinsville) providing the ilk necessary for a tough championship run.

And it's a simple philosophy, really, because instead of seeing different countries from different parts of the world, Milkman says her key priority in recruiting is attitude first and golf skill second.

"I don't really look at it as United States or international," she said. "I look at it as quality people. If you recruit quality people that want to work hard - no matter their background or where they're from - you will have success.

"And I like the mixture. They learn so much from each other. I think they become more employable when they come out. They learn a second language. Some of them are able to go overseas, so it's a learning opportunity. But it comes down to quality people."

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