Teresa Puga is no stranger to breaking records.
The junior recorded the lowest fall season average in Gophers women’s golf history in 2008 and is on pace to break the single-season stroke average record this spring. And next week she will become the first Minnesota women’s golfer to participate in an NCAA regional qualifier since 2001.
But while Puga is excited for the opportunity, she was disappointed that her team was not invited.
“On one side I was happy, and on the other I was not,” Puga said. “I know everyone is kind of sad because we thought we were going to go … but they were happy for me.”
The Gophers were coming off possibly the best spring season in their history, but it wasn’t enough to impress the selection committee, as they were the highest ranked team (according to Golfweek) that was not invited to the NCAA’s.
“I was very surprised,” director of golf Brad James said. “I’m still very confused on how we didn’t get selected to regionals … I was absolutely floored when the University of Minnesota name was not announced.”
With Puga leading the way, the Gophers made big strides in the spring half of their season. Included in the laundry list of accomplishments is the lowest 72-hole score in the history of the program at the Big Ten championships last weekend, four top-five finishes in seven tournaments and three straight events of shooting sub-900 as a team — something the Gophers have never done.
Puga has certainly had a say in the Minnesota’s performance, posting a team-best 75.08 stroke average while finishing in the top 10 seven times this season.
And with the progress this season, James said he expects the team to be in the top two in the Big Ten next season, as well as competing in the NCAA’s. The Gophers will graduate one player, senior Christine Herzog, and will have four seniors on the roster next season.
“We’ve kind of put all our eggs in … that year,” James said. “This coming year was definitely a year we were striving for, and we are really excited for next year to begin.”
But while James plans on next season being the breakout year for the Gophers, associate head coach Kristine Wessinger said the team exceeded their own expectations this season.
“Next year we’re going to be solid,” Wessinger said. “And the better you get, the better recruits you get in, the more you push each other on the team, so I think next year is going to be a huge year for us.”
With the Gophers improving and better recruits coming in, James said Puga’s career will be held in high regard for helping change the face of the program.
“She definitely played a large role in bringing our program to a completely different level,” James said. “She’s helping us get to a level that we need to get to.”
Her legacy will very likely include the best career stroke average in Gophers history, with her current average more than a stroke lower than Kate Hughes’ record, set in 1989.
Puga admits that her competitiveness makes her strive for top finishes, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“Having those things obviously show that I work and that I play well,” Puga said. “But it’s just numbers.”
Puga, a native of Spain, came to the United States in 2007 speaking little English. Wessinger saw her play at the Girls British Open Amateur Championship that August, and Puga made her first appearance with the Gophers the following spring season.
In February 2008 at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, she was the Gophers’ highest individual finisher. Puga continued to make an immediate impact, posting a team-best 77.36 stroke average in seven tournaments in her freshman campaign.
Although she has finished each of her seasons for Minnesota with the team’s best stroke average, Wessinger said she has finally started believing in her abilities this season.
“I think she’s been able to trust herself and actually have some belief in herself, where I think before there was a little doubt in her mind,” Wessinger said. “She doesn’t play scared; mentally she’s pretty tough.”
Puga will carry this tough mental attitude with her to the NCAA regional qualifier, which she views as just another tournament.
“I don’t want to add pressure to myself because I know that wouldn’t help, so I’m just going to face it like another tournament” Puga said. “And if I play well, and I get to go to nationals, that would be great. And if not, I played my best.”
Puga will be one of three individuals participating at the West Regional May 6-8 at the Stanford Golf Course, with two individuals from each region moving on to the championship finals.
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