Puga’s progress earns NCAA berth

The junior helped Minnesota to one of its best spring seasons of all time.

John Hageman

Teresa Puga is no stranger to breaking records. The junior recorded the lowest fall season average in Gophers womenâÄôs 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 womenâÄôs 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. âÄúOn one side I was happy, and on the other I was not,âÄù Puga said. âÄúI know everyone is kind of sad because we thought we were going to go âĦ but they were happy for me.âÄù The Gophers were coming off possibly the best spring season in their history, but it wasnâÄôt enough to impress the selection committee, as they were the highest ranked team (according to Golfweek) that was not invited to the NCAAâÄôs. âÄúI was very surprised,âÄù director of golf Brad James said. âÄúIâÄôm still very confused on how we didnâÄôt get selected to regionals âĦ I was absolutely floored when the University of Minnesota name was not announced.âÄù 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 âÄî something the Gophers have never done. Puga has certainly had a say in the MinnesotaâÄôs 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 NCAAâÄôs. The Gophers will graduate one player, senior Christine Herzog, and will have four seniors on the roster next season. âÄúWeâÄôve kind of put all our eggs in âĦ that year,âÄù James said. âÄúThis coming year was definitely a year we were striving for, and we are really excited for next year to begin.âÄù 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. âÄúNext year weâÄôre going to be solid,âÄù Wessinger said. âÄúAnd 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.âÄù With the Gophers improving and better recruits coming in, James said PugaâÄôs career will be held in high regard for helping change the face of the program. âÄúShe definitely played a large role in bringing our program to a completely different level,âÄù James said. âÄúSheâÄôs helping us get to a level that we need to get to.âÄù 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 HughesâÄô record, set in 1989. Puga admits that her competitiveness makes her strive for top finishes, but the numbers donâÄôt tell the whole story. âÄúHaving those things obviously show that I work and that I play well,âÄù Puga said. âÄúBut itâÄôs just numbers.âÄù 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 GophersâÄô 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 teamâÄôs best stroke average, Wessinger said she has finally started believing in her abilities this season. âÄúI think sheâÄôs been able to trust herself and actually have some belief in herself, where I think before there was a little doubt in her mind,âÄù Wessinger said. âÄúShe doesnâÄôt play scared; mentally sheâÄôs pretty tough.âÄù Puga will carry this tough mental attitude with her to the NCAA regional qualifier, which she views as just another tournament. âÄúI donâÄôt want to add pressure to myself because I know that wouldnâÄôt help, so IâÄôm just going to face it like another tournamentâÄù Puga said. âÄúAnd if I play well, and I get to go to nationals, that would be great. And if not, I played my best.âÄù 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.