It might not have been the Hilton Head Island conditions she is accustomed to, but University of Alabama standout Stephanie Meadow more than made herself at home during the weather-challenged first round of the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at Long Cove Club on Friday.
The International Junior Golf Academy graduate, whose parents still live in Indigo Run, braved the unusually cold, rainy and windy weather that challenged the nation's top women's collegiate programs to fire a four-under 67 and lead the event by two strokes.
Meadow was one of only six golfers among the 90-player field to break par on Friday as the already-difficult Pete Dye golf course had its teeth sharpened by the winter-like conditions that have gripped the Lowcountry over the past several days.
"I hit a lot of really good shots today," Meadow said. "I played the ball a little lower than normal and played conservative when I needed to play conservative. Other than that I picked my spots to go for it when I could."
Meadow is followed in the individual competition by a pair of Duke stars, Celine Boutier and Yu Liu, who both fired 2-under-par 69s to join Arkansas sophomore Gabriela Lopez in a three-way tie for second place. Stanford's Maria Stackhouse and Oklahoma senior Anne-Catherine Tanguay rounded out the sub-par shooters with 1-under 70s and sit three shots off Meadow's pace.
The combined efforts of Boutier and Yu were enough to lead the No. 3-ranked Blue Devils to an impressive team score of even-par, which was nine shots clear of Southeastern Conference rivals Vanderbilt and Alabama. The Crimson Tide are looking to win the prestigious tournament for the third straight time.
"It's really, really nice that all of us managed to play so well in these conditions," Duke's Boutier said of the team effort. "It's great from the team aspect that we did as well as we did today."
Duke's team dominance notwithstanding, the day, as forgettable as it was for so many, belonged to Meadow, who has enjoyed Alabama's previous success during the first two years of the event. The former IJGA student used her experience playing at Long Cove to craft the perfect recipe for success. The senior drove the ball straight, hit 16 greens in regulation and suffered just a lone bogey against five birdies.
"I was really happy with my ball striking and was able to judge my distances very well," Meadow said. "I had the wind down pretty well and that certainly helped."
If not for a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole, Arkansas' Lopez would have found herself alone in second place, but the sophomore still played one of the steadier rounds of the day, committing only two bogeys against four birdies.
"The key was having patience today," said Lopez. "Hitting good, committed shots and staying patient was important because it was so hard out there today. It was cold and it was raining a little bit, but it was the same conditions for everyone. The one who remained in the moment and played it shot by shot was going to succeed and that's what I did today."
The University of South Carolina, the tournament's host, finished the day at 10 over and in fourth place, one shot better than North Carolina. The Gamecocks were led by freshman Katelyn Dambaugh, who crafted an impressive even-par 71 in the blustery conditions at Long Cove, which is hosting the event for the third straight year.
"The course was playing pretty tough, it was playing very long," said South Carolina Director of Golf Puggy Blackmon. "The girls hung together and I thought played very solid. We know the golf course about as well as anybody, so we'll see how it goes the rest of the weekend."
To that end, conditions are expected to improve both for Saturday's second round and Sunday's conclusion of the 54-hole event. While that's good news to Meadow, who is far more accustomed to the warm weather of the Lowcountry, it won't change the way she approaches the challenging layout as she looks to defend her two-shot lead over the final 36 holes.
"It will be pretty much the same game plan tomorrow," Meadow said. "They can put some tricky pins out here, and that will kind of determine everything."
Darius Rucker Intercollegiate
Friday, Long Cove Club, Hilton Head Island
Par 71, 6,233 yards
1. Duke 284, T2. Vanderbilt 293, T2. Alabama 293, 4. South Carolina 294, 5. North Carolina 295, T6. Stanford 297, T6. Arkansas 297, T6. LSU 297, 9. Oklahoma 298, 10. Wake Forest 299, 11. Tennessee 304, T12. Virginia 305, T12. Auburn 305, T14. Kentucky 307, T14. Furman 307, 16. Arizona State 311, 17. Georgia 317.
1. Stephanie Meadow, Alabama 67
T2. Celine Boutier, Duke 69
T2. Yu Liu, Duke 69
T2. Gaby Lopez, Arkansas 69
T5. Mariah Stackhouse, Stanford 70
T5. Anne Tanguay, Oklahoma 70
T7. Katelyn Dambaugh, South Carolina 71
T7. Noemi Jimenez, Arizona St. 71
T7. Carolina Nistrup, LSU 71
T10. Samantha Swinehart, South Carolina 72
T10. Alex Harrell, Auburn 72
T10. Esther Lee, Duke 72
T10. Elizabeth Mallett, North Carolina 72
Other South Carolina Individuals
T32. Sarah Schmelzel 75
T45. Justine Dreher 76
T53. Jia Xin Yang 77
*T53. Suzie Lee 77
*T80. Mary Fran Hillow 83
*Playing as individuals