By Sam Draut–

The spring season for U of L women’s golfer Olivia Cason didn’t begin as well as she would have liked, but the Owensboro, Ky. native will end the season where no Cardinal freshman has been before. Cason shot a 3-under-par in three rounds at the NCAA Regional at Bryan, Texas to tie for sixth in the 96-player field and advanced to the NCAA Championship.

After the team had spent nearly two weeks leading up to the NCAA Regional preparing for the course, Cason tallied 15 pars and two birdies in the first round to pace the Cardinals. On the second day, Cason finished with five birdies and shot 3-under-par, the fourth-best round at an NCAA Regional Championship by an individual in program history.

“The first few days kind of came easier,” Cason said. “It all seemed to me that everything was coming through, I was hitting my targets. Putts were falling.”

Following two well-played rounds, Cason said the final day was a “struggle,” but she was able to shoot a 1-under-par in the final nine holes including back-to-back birdies after clubbing a 2-over-par through the first nine.

“I started off being two-over after the turn and made a bogey on the next hole,” Cason said. “I took a deep breath and asked my coach to walk with me to keep me mentally playing one shot at a time.”

The 3-under-par 213 qualified Cason as one of 12 individual golfers for the NCAA Championship in Eugene, Oregon.

It has been a tale of two seasons for Cason in her first year as a collegiate golfer. She had two top-10 finishes in the fall season, tying for fifth at the Mason Rudolph Championship and tying for ninth at the Cardinal Cup. Cason played in five of the six tournaments Louisville competed in during the fall season, but struggled to make the five-player team in the spring season.

Despite her struggles, Cason spent long hours working on her game, and after failing to make the ACC tournament team, she asked coach Courtney Trimble, “What do you think I need to shoot for regionals?”

At times frustrated with her play during the spring months, a friend told her, “If you’re mad, go do something about it.”

Cason did.

She would go to U of L’s indoor practice facility and spend hours late into the night working on her putting and short game. For two or three times a week for about a month, Cason and a friend would practice and stay sometimes as late as 1 a.m.

On one particular putting drill, 30 balls would be placed around the hole, ranging from one-foot to 15-feet, and Cason couldn’t move on until the putt was made.

Trimble decided to let Cason play in the NCAA Regionals. She responded with the affirmation from her coach and became the third individual NCAA Championship qualifier in program history.

“All the hard work paid off,” Cason said. “I had people that believed in me, friends helped me, they would work with me late at night, got up early. I’m thankful for the support of the people around here.”

The four day, four-round NCAA Championship at Eugene County Club will begin on May 20, giving Cason almost two weeks to prepare for the course. She has looked at flyovers and virtual tours of the course to get an understanding of the shots she may face.

“My coach knows people that are members out there. She is calling them so we can work on shots that we may have,” Cason said.

Without her teammates alongside of her, Cason said the NCAA Championship would be “different” but she has had plenty of success playing alone throughout her career. She has six top-10 finishes in her American Junior Golf Association career and won the 2015 Scott Stallings Tournament.

“In the summer, we play in a lot of tournaments individually,” Cason said. “I’m used to it.”

Qualifying for the NCAA Championship was a goal of Cason’s, but she isn’t expecting any added pressure and will be playing alongside of six other freshmen who individually qualified.

“Coming in as a freshman, I feel like there isn’t a lot of pressure on me. Especially, I didn’t have a great ranking and huge spring season,” Cason said. “I can go out and do what I have been doing.”

Photo Courtesy / Louisville Athletics