James Madison charges toward the postseason with a momentum-building win at the Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday Intercollegiate

With just one tournament left in the regular season, at least on James Madison’s schedule, Tommy Baker is talking about the postseason.

“I think if you’re not thinking about it,” the Dukes’ head women’s golf coach said, “you’re not building a program in the right direction. From February on, the players knew the importance of coming out and competing every single week. I told a couple of them, if we win out there’s a chance.”

Baker’s players have come close, with the only blip a runner-up finish at the UNC Wilmington-hosted River Landing Classic on March 14. They won the Oyster Shuck Match Play to start the spring and won again at the Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday Intercollegiate on Wednesday.

Caledonia Golf Club in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina, puts a premium on placement, so James Madison’s gameplan for the Golfweek/Any Given Tuesday event was to put the ball in the right spots and attack on the holes that necessitate it. That’s not every hole, and sometimes the right play meant hitting away from hole locations.

“Committing to that sometimes is difficult at this age but I think the girls did an exceptional job,” Baker said.

After playing the first 36 holes in 3 over, James Madison put it on cruise control coming in. The Dukes were 10 over in the final round and finished the week with a 17-shot victory over North Carolina-Greensboro.

James Madison got a big boost from Kendall Turner, who finished solo second at 1 under, and Kate Owens, who tied for third two shots behind that. This is Turner’s fourth consecutive top-3 finish.

“She’s really close to breaking through and I reminded her after the round, the challenge now is to be patient, keep trusting what we’ve worked on and keep moving forward,” Baker said, “because her time is going to come, and it’s going to come at a great time.”

Coastal Carolina’s Sara Sarrion won the individual title at Caledonia with her 5-under total.

Baker called his team’s approach in the first two days at Caledonia “business-like.” Two weeks before arriving at the Golfweek event, when the Dukes were second in Wilmington, they had the lead going into the final round. A closing round of 16-over 304 left the door open for host Wilmington to get the edge by three shots.

Coming down the stretch, James Madison let a few slip away – a three-putt here, a missed opportunity there. Normally, the Dukes thrive in situations where they might need a four- or five-foot par save to keep their momentum. Baker thinks nerves might have contributed to some uncharacteristic misses at River Landing.

“That was a tough, painful experience for the girls and after that we met, we talked about the feeling and just making sure that everything we do from this point forward is moving toward the conference championship,” Baker said.

For the first time this spring, James Madison will compete in the Sun Belt Championship. Two years ago, the Dukes won the CAA Championship to earn an automatic qualifying spot in NCAA regionals. That team won the conference title by coming back from a 16-shot deficit.

Now, at No. 75 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, James Madison is hovering around the bubble for an at-large selection into regional play. It’s why every win matters.

“Obviously we know if we win conference, we move on but we set the bar to win every single event this spring,” Baker said. “That sets the precedent where the players know the goal and the objective and we have a lot of players who love a plan. If we can put a plan in place to do that, I think they’re going to do exceptionally well.”

When Baker arrived at James Madison in 2018, the Dukes were ranked No. 147 by Golfweek. The steady climb that commenced has been a fun, wild ride for Baker, who has expanded his recruiting strategy to a nationwide approach as he puts his own stamp on the Dukes program. Another NCAA berth would continue that momentum.

“Right now is great,” he said, “and I think the future is going to continue to get even better.”