Historically, the Ole Miss Women’s Golf Team has not been expected to have great success. However, all of that changed throughout the course of the 2017-18 season, and the Rebels are redefining expectations for the program while establishing a “new normal.”
This year’s roster has had a record-setting fall season. They call themselves “Team 32.” They are the 32nd team at the university and the 3rd team under Head Coach Kory Henkes.
Prior to the start of the fall season, the Rebels hadn’t won since 2015. However, this year, the team has won three championship titles and two individual player wins.
The most shocking individual Rebel win was achieved by Louisiana native Julia Johnson. Only a freshman, Johnson has proven to be an essential player. Back in October, Johnson clutched the Magnolia Invitational title with a three-day total of 7 under.
Johnson won the tournament in a playoff in extra holes, proving herself to be as mentally tough as they come. Johnson’s individual title makes her only the third freshman to win a tournament in the school’s history. The young Rebel’s fall success gave her good momentum going into the off season.
Coach Henkes and Coach Belt trusted their girls to work hard when they left Oxford at the beginning of December. Each Rebel had her own practice agenda to guarantee improvement and hopeful spring success.
Johnson, student of swing coach Jordan Dempsey, wasted no time focusing on her swing technique. “I didn’t really work on much,” she said. “Towards the end of the semester, I was struggling with a two-way miss, so I was just trying to get my swing back to where it was at the beginning of the fall.”
It was only a matter of time until the Rebels and Johnson could test their hard work out on the golf course. At the conclusion of Christmas break, the players returned to campus to face consistent bad weather, including rain and temperatures cold enough to close the courses, limiting the team’s practice time to prepare for upcoming events.
Despite challenges, the Rebels worked to prepare for the spring season, and competed in multiple team qualifiers. The qualifiers, set up by Coach Henkes and Assistant Coach Drew Belt, tested the players’ ability to play under pressure to earn a spot on the travel roster.
Johnson and senior Katy Harris both hit the ground running and played well to win two of the qualifiers, guaranteeing a spot on the roster for the first spring event in Las Vegas. Historically struggling with spring qualifying and tournament play in previous years, Coach Henkes was optimistic for this season.
“I think qualifying went really well,” Henkes said. “Usually (they) come back from break a little rusty, but we have a really good feeling heading into Las Vegas.”
By winning a qualifier, it was clear that Johnson’s game had improved over the break. Playing some of the best golf of her life, the freshman was ready to compete. However, two weeks before the opening tournament, Johnson suffered a concussion from a fall. The unexpected injury halted Johnson’s practice and preparation leading up to the event.
“I was obviously nervous that it was going to effect the beginning of my season and my chance to travel to the first tournament,” Johnson said.
Johnson sat out of all practice and workouts for a week, doing all the necessary precautions in order to heal. Once cleared by the doctors, she returned to the course, her game seemingly unaffected. In fact, she was playing just as well as she had before the injury. Despite the bump in the road, Johnson felt confident and ready to compete.
With the Vegas tournament just days away, Team 32 looked to break more school records at the Rebel Beach Invitational tournament hosted by UNLV at Spanish Trail Country Club. After more than a month of practice and playing, Coach Henkes thought the girls were ready to compete.
“Coach Drew and I had no doubt in our mind that we could win this tournament,” Henkes said.
The Rebels played 36 holes the first day in brutal conditions of 30 degrees and 25 mph winds. The team showed extreme grit and determination and finished the day in third place. Johnson shot two impressive 73s putting her in 4th place with just one round to play.
The second day and final round was tightly contested all day as the Rebels chased another team win, trying to catch host team UNLV and hold off BYU and Kennesaw State. Rebel Nation was on the edge of their seat as both the team and Johnson were battling for a win.
In the end, the Rebels finished in second place falling to UNLV, making it their 4th top 5 finish in the 2017-18 season. Despite the disappointing finish for the team, Johnson ended the day on top, shooting a 2 under 70, winning her second individual title at just 18 years old.
“I think Julia could leave here with a great legacy,” Henkes said. “Her name could be all over the record books if she keeps up at this rate.”
The future is bright for the Ole Miss Women’s golf team and no one could be happier than coach herself.