Wildcats Hunting Birdies, Feeling Confident Heading Into Match Play

MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State sophomore Heather Fortushniak’s confidence level is on the rise. The Wildcats used several Fortushniak birdies down the stretch to close out the win at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational Monday and turn their sights next to a match play event, where she’s also had recent success.

“I feel confident and electric after this last weekend,” Fortushniak said prior to the Wildcats traveling to Madison, Wisconsin for East and West Match Play at the par 72, 6,324-yard University of Wisconsin Golf Course-University Ridge. “Everyone’s ready to continue the stretch of shooting good golf under par.”

The Brighton, Michigan native struggled immensely during Sunday’s opening round at Colbert Hills Golf Course, shooting 12-over 84 including a triple bogey on No. 1 and three double bogeys on the back nine. She bounced back however, and shot over par on just three holes en route to a 2-over 74 in round two. Sitting in lead position heading into round three, K-State found themselves five strokes out of first place and sputtering after thirteen holes. Rather than crumbling under the pressure, Fortushniak helped spark a surge for the Wildcats and birdied three of four critical holes as K-State held on for a team tournament victory by four strokes over North Texas. 

“Heather’s play on the back nine on Monday was key,” said head coach Kristi Knight. “She got off to a terrible start Sunday morning. She hated that and responded with two better rounds. She started making birdies. She’s always had the physical talent, the challenge has been having the right mindset going into a competitive round and that’s where she’s developed and that’s fun to see.”

Added Fortushniak: “I knew if I finished strong I would give the team a good chance to win.”

A former ice hockey center and point guard, Fortushniak is excited about the one-on-one nature of this weekend’s match play event where an eight team field will play 36 holes of stroke play on Sunday to determine seeding for championship and consolation team match play brackets. Eight individuals, one from each team including K-State freshman Haley Vargas, will also play 36 holes to seed themselves on Sunday for a separate championship and consolation bracket played on Monday.

The match play is a different style of golf than the Wildcats have played in the first two tournaments of the season with golfers playing head to head at each hole, tallying each as a win or loss relative to the opposition’s score. Fortushniak got a taste for match play success this summer when she made a run to the quarterfinals of the Michigan Women’s Amateur Championship, including a come-from-behind win and a 24-hole nail biter, before falling to Michigan State women’s golf head coach and Michigan Golf Hall of Famer Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll in the quarterfinals. 

“I love match play and just having one component, being able to come back from a mistake easily and it not be detrimental to the round and have a new hole every single hole,” Fortushniak said. “I love match play too because it’s one-on-one and channeling that different competitiveness is so fun.”

K-State’s scoring lineup for East and West Match play will consist of four others familiar with matchplay in Europeans Briony Bayles, Niamh McSherry and Chloe Weir, and Texan Reid Isaac, who played in a similar individual event in the Texas Women’s Amateur and US Women’s Amateur.

“Your score on the hole doesn’t necessarily matter, you either win or lose the hole,” K-State head coach Kristi Knight said. “We have been making a ton of birdies and that’s a good thing going into match play. It’s still golf, but a style of golf that rewards birdies and we’ve been making a ton of birdies.”

Isaac has the team lead with 23 birdies through six rounds this season, including a tournament-best 15 in the opener at Trinity Forest and another eight at the Marilynn Smith Sunflower Invitational. Both events saw Isaac land among the top-5 on the final leader board. McSherry is also in top form for K-State after shooting under par in all three rounds while claiming her first individual medalist honors and leading the Wildcats to a win at Colbert Hills. 

Eight teams and eight individuals will tee off Sunday at 9 a.m. with a shotgun start and continuous play through 36 holes. The field will consist of Grand Canyon, (48)Indiana, Iowa, (26)Iowa State, Texas Tech, UC Davis, and host Wisconsin. Play will continue through Monday with 18 holes played, followed by the last 18 holes on Tuesday.

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Source: Kansas State Sports