April 7, 2006
Not often does a college athlete carry the future of an entire program on their shoulders, but in junior gofler Mary Kate Morgan's case it is something she has been doing since first walking on the Gonzaga campus three years ago.
"Mary Kate is a tremendous talent on the golf course," said Bulldogs head coach Robert Gray as he is in the midst of his 7th year at GU. "I knew that she was someone we could start to build a program around when we started recruiting her. She has the ability to play her way into an individual invitation to the NCAA championships by time she finishes her career."
When asked about the notion of being considered the best female golfer in school history, Morgan just laughes and feels honored by the thought that people think that highly of her game.
"It is very unexpected to be considered the best at something," Morgan said. "I just try to play my best every round and try to win tournaments. It's a great honor, but my ultimate goal at Gonzaga is to keep winning tournaments."
Winning tournaments is something that indeed has vaulted Morgan into the spotlight of being one of best golfers in program history. As a freshman she was the Bulldogs top finisher in five events including a second-place finish at the Inland Empire Intercollegiate. She continued that success as a sophomore with four Top-10 finishes including a fifth-place finish at the Santa Clara Colby Classic.
Not satisfied with the level of her game, Morgan has entered several summer tournaments to help improve her game. Following her freshman year she placed second at the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Women's Amateur Classic losing 5 and 3 in the 36-hole championship. That second place finish earned her the right to qualify for the North and South Women's Amateur Golf Championship held at historic Pinehurst during the summer of 2005. Morgan shot an 85 on Pinehurst No. 2 and failed to make the cut for the top 63 players, an experience that prepared her for anything her junior season might throw her direction.
"Playing at Pinehurst No. 2 was extremely intimidating," stated Morgan. "With all the history on that course and the field of top players, it was a very humbling experience. In the long run I think that experience can only help. It gave me a better perspective on where to improve my game."
That perspective has indeed paid off this season as Morgan opened the year with 14th place finish at the Ptarmigan Ram Fall Classic hosted by Colorado State University. In February of 2006, Morgan made Gonzaga golf history as she became the first GU women's golfer to win an individual title placing first at the Red Rock Invitational at Oak Creek Country Club in Sedona, Ariz. Morgan fired an even-par 72 on the final day to win by two strokes.
"It's really hard to believe that I won a tournament," added the junior from Longview, Wash. "Every golfer dreams of winning a tournament and works every day to achieve that dream. It is still a great feeling and something that makes me want to work harder just to win another one."
While the individual success has been there for Morgan, Gonzaga's golf program has not always kept pace. Gonzaga had two third place finishes during Morgan's freshman season but averaged around a 10th place finish for most of their tournaments with a senior laden line-up. Last season Morgan was the star player on a relatively young team that had its best finish with a fourth at the Santa Clara Colby Classic.
This season the program seems on the verge of having a great season as the Bulldogs have finished in the Top 5 as a team in their last three events. The string started with a second place finish at the Springlake Invitational where Gonzaga posted a two-round total of 600 to finish second by just four strokes. Gonzaga posted another second place finish four days later at the Snowbird Invitational, holding on to second by one stroke. Gonzaga's latest tournament produced a fifth place finish at the Hoya Invitational that gives the Bulldogs some momentum heading into the West Coast Conference Championships.
"Playing as a team was really tough the first year and half I was here," Morgan said. "We were playing streches of good golf, but just not contending for tournament championships. At the end of last season and all this spring that really has changed. We have every golfer playing the best they can and we are right there competing for tournaments. That is one of the things that I will remember most from my college golf experience. The whole team atmosphere and competing with your team to win championships."
With that goal within sight and another year ahead of her, Morgan does have her some thoughts of what a the future might hold for her.
"I occasionally think about what it would be like to play golf for a living. I would be so lucky to play golf for a living, but its definitely a tough way to make a living. I guess if it happens, it happens," Morgan finished with a smile.
** Notes on Gonzaga women's golf: Gonzaga joined the West Coast Conference for women's golf during the 1996-97 school year. The Bulldogs have finished twice finished third at the five-team WCC Championships. Mary Kate Morgan was an honorable mention All-WCC selection as a sophomore. Former Gonzaga golfer Connie Oldershaw Guthrie played for the Gonzaga men's golf team in the late 1950's. She was inducted into the Gonzaga Athletic Hall of Fame in 1991. She was a two-time winner of the United States Senior Women's Amateur in 1984 and 1986.