SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – With warm temperatures, gusty winds and dry desert air, just walking Grayhawk Golf Club is no easy task. That fact that Texas sophomore Sophie Guo has managed to shoot 1 over after three full trips around the NCAA Women's Championship layout is even more impressive.
Guo is competing in her first tournament in more than two months. She was among a throng of Longhorns who tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-March. Kaitlyn Papp, Agathe Laisne and Hailee Cooper all had to withdraw from the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, but Guo was hit the hardest by the novel coronavirus.
“It was tough,” Guo said. “I laid in my bed for like two weeks.”
Guo said she not only lost muscle but also experienced some cardiovascular and respiratory issues. When she returned to practicing, she had lost some 25 yards of length with the driver. Even walking was quite the undertaking.
“It just zaps your energy,” Texas associate head coach Kate Golden said of how the virus affected her players as a whole.
Guo especially. Her rhythm and feel came back after a few days of practice, Guo said, but physically she was unable to play a full round. And up until a few weeks ago, she could barely get through nine holes.
“I had recovered,” Guo said, “but for a while it was really hard to breathe.”
Guo missed three tournaments, the longest she had gone in her golf career without competing. That stretch included last week’s NCAA Louisville Regional, which she qualified for but missed out to freshman Bentley Cotton for the last spot.
Texas has had players in and out of the lineup all year. Papp missed a pair during the fall to tee it up in majors. Laisne and Sara Kouskova remained in Europe the entire first semester because of virus and travel concerns. And in the team’s final event before Big 12s, The Bruzzy, the Longhorns fielded just two players.
And because of that inconsistency, Texas’ results suffered. But the Longhorns rallied when it mattered most, rebounding from a fifth at conference to qualify for their fifth straight NCAA Championship with a strong final round in Kentucky.
“Everyone’s gotten a lot of playing time,” Golden said. “It’s nice to have finally figured it out; we just figured it out a little late this year.”
At No. 17 in Golfstat, Texas entered nationals a bit under the radar. But the Longhorns, who finally appear past the adversity that has plagued them all season, are in familiar territory again. They are fourth and round out a breakaway pack of teams that are in comfortable positions to make match play with one round left.
Four Texas players are 3 over or better, led by Kouskova at even par and Guo, who has returned to the fold and is feeling close to 100 percent.
“It feels great to get the adrenaline going again,” Guo said. “I like getting those nerves and then keep it going through them. I’m glad I’m here. I did not want to miss the NCAA Championship.”
Guo's smile might be hiding under a large black mask, which she wears while playing. But the look in her eyes is proof: She's excited to be back, and her team is even happier to have her.