As a freshman playing in her first NCAA Championship, no one could have faulted Kendall Martindale if she had gotten off to a slow start and experienced a few noticeably rough patches during her opening round on Tuesday.
By this stage of the year, most freshmen have resumes that look more like that of a sophomore not only academically, but also athletically. However, no matter how seasoned a freshmen is on the golf course, no other tournament can properly prepare a golfer for what they face at their first NCAA Championship.
The crowds are larger. The stakes are higher. A swarm of media actually exists. And to up the ante even more for Martindale and the Commodores, they have the added pressure that comes with playing on their home course in front of their fans.
No longer is a round of golf just another round of golf. For golfers, who are often creatures of habit, the dramatic changes in the landscape can add up to a possibly combustible situation for anyone being introduced to the NCAA Championships for the first time.
But instead of joining the long list of wide-eyed freshmen who have staggered upon arriving on the big stage, Martindale did just the opposite. The Jefferson City, Tenn., native seized the moment and blocked out and would-be distractions by shooting a 3-over 75. The score tied for the best of the day by a Commodore (Lauren Stratton) and placed her into a tie for 47th overall.
"Seventy-five is definitely a solid score for my first NCAA Championship," Martindale said. "It is something you can build on and it is not putting you too far back."
Martindale admitted there were extra nerves for her on Tuesday, but she put that anxiety to rest with a hot start. She parred the first hole and carded a birdie on hole No. 2.
"I was definitely the most nervous that I've been in a tournament on the first tee, so parring the first hole and getting a birdie on the second hole was good just to give me a little cushion for the front nine," Martindale said.
Martindale is not a newcomer to success. There have been periods where she has played like, well, a freshman, but for the most part, she has been solid for the Commodores en route to earning SEC All-Freshman honors with a stroke average of 75.1.
"She's the real deal and hopefully we can get even a better score out of her tomorrow because she hits the ball so well," said Head Coach Greg Allen, who began the day walking beside Martindale on the front nine.
Maybe the most positive takeaway from Martindale's opening-round score is that if her previous results are any indication for things to come, she still has a lower score on the horizon. In all eight of her tournaments this season, her first-round score has been her lowest of the tournament just twice.
"It was one of my better starts," Martindale said. "I usually don't start off too well. It is a good start and something I can work with. I was very happy with it."
There are still 54 holes to play, and a lot can change between now and Friday, but Martindale's start could be a positive sign of things to come as the Commodores look to climb back up the leaderboard.