A young team striving to renew grand tradition needs a steady hand of age, even if it’s from a sophomore.
Arizona women’s golf coach Shelly Haywood, whose task it is to bring the Wildcats back into the national elite, is grateful for Alejandra Llaneza, who is ranked No. 42 in the nation.
“She’s our team leader,” Haywood says with no touch of regret.
Llaneza, one of Mexico’s anointed heirs to former Wildcat Lorena Ochoa, has posted a 73.35 stroke average, including a round of 67. She’s also third in the country in the short game rankings.
The latter point is cause for celebration as the short game is somewhat down the list on the wow factor in college golf, even if it is No. 1 in importance.
Llaneza’s first year at UA last season, when she was third on the team in stroke average, helped her become more mature mentally. That, and the help of former UA pro Susie Meyers.
“She brought me into positive thinking,” said Llaneza, “not get frustrated when there is a bad shot. Stay in the moment and go on to the next. Make yourself see your goal.”
That goal – to fulfill great potential – has been growing since she was 6 in Mexico City.
Llaneza’s father, Jorge, began to take his impressionable daughter to the golf course. By 8, she was in a tournament and by 14 she was a national youth icon.
Meanwhile, she went to eighth grade in Dallas to learn English and to continue her golf development.
“I was on a winter tour and played in all conditions,” Llaneza says. “I didn’t complain when it was 32 degrees.”
She didn’t promise at 5 feet 2 to be a long hitter, but her short game was art, even when she was younger.
At UA, she is frequently in the weight room and “works as hard as she has to,” Haywood said.
Haywood saw a fire in her during the recruiting process.
“She’s had some struggles, letting her emotions get the best of her,” Haywood said. “But she’s determined. She’s a little bulldog.”
UA in second place
UA is in a three-way tie for second place at the NCAA West Regional in Tempe after Thursday’s first round.
The Wildcats shot an even-par for a 288 to tie with Texas and Texas A&M while Arizona State (273) is in first.
UA freshman Isabelle Boineau used three birdies on the back nine for a 2-under par 70 to lead the Wildcats. She’s 10th overall.
Llaneza fired a 1-under-par 71 and is tied for 13th.
Freshman Margarita Ramos was tied for 17th with a 72, senior Amanda Wilson was in 54th with a 75 and freshman Nikki Koller was tied for 67th with a 76.