Golden Bears’ pair hits the Scottish links

Having the chance to play a round of golf in Scotland is a dream very few have the chance to experience in a lifetime.

For Rachel Gray and Taylor Auman, it was more than one round at the home of the sport as the pair were asked to represent the United States in the Scotland Cup.

Auman, a Coon Rapids native and recent Concordia University graduate, was a teammate with Gray, also a Coon Rapids native and Legacy Christian Academy graduate last season for the Golden Bears.

Rachel Gray watches a tee shot on the St. Andrews Kittock Course.

Rachel Gray watches a tee shot on the St. Andrews Kittock Course.
Photo courtesy of Rachel Gray

This year Auman will return to the Golden Bears program as a graduate assistant coach, working with the team during morning workout sessions in addition to on-course coaching during matches and active recruiting.

The pair were part of a 20-member delegation through USA Athletes International that competed against Scottish and European golfers in a Ryder or Solheim Cup-style competition on some of the game’s most famous courses like Carnoustie and the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The pair made the team after Grand Valley State University coach Rebecca Mailloux contacted Concordia coach Matt Higgins about the opportunity.

“Coach pulled us aside and we both said ‘yes’ that night. You couldn’t pass it up and it was a great honor to be asked,” Gray said.

Taylor Auman, left, and Rachel Gray, right, pose with a bagpiper during a tour of Edinburgh, Scotland. Photos courtesy of Rachel Gray

Taylor Auman, left, and Rachel Gray, right, pose with a bagpiper during a tour of Edinburgh, Scotland. Photos courtesy of Rachel Gray

Auman and Gray knew their USA teammates from tournament play, but that was about it as the rest of the squad came from other Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) teams.

The six-day trip included a 36-hole tournament against their Scottish counterparts on the Kittock Course with nine holes of alternate shots, nine holes of best ball and 18 holes of singles match play over Friday and Saturday.

Conditions were typical for Scotland, according to Gray. “A little windy, sunny and beautiful then cloudy and rainy,” she said. “It was 70 on the tee and by the green we were getting out the umbrella.”

Their opponents were some of the best around. Two were the top players in a European LPGA feeder tour and two were PGA professionals at area clubs.

“We thought, ‘oh, OK, this is going to be harder than we thought,’” Gray said after learning who their opponents would be. “And two of the girls were well-known all over the place, so getting to play against them was amazing.”

Gray and Auman were paired up with two other players for a foursomes match-play format for 18 holes. Auman and her partner, Marni Weinstein, a senior at Grand Valley, were paired with the top two tour players. “It was a good match against really solid players,” Auman said as they lost 4 and 3 after 15 holes. “We were pumped with a birdie on a hole then they would eagle it. So it was a good experience.”

The difference in playing styles is one thing Auman took away.

“Their balls roll so much farther than what we’re used to,” she said.

Instead of hitting lofted shots with a ton of spin, their European counterparts used the wind to guide the ball and run the ball across the ground to stay out of trouble.

“They hardly got the ball more than 10 feet off the ground and everyone knew how to hit a knock down shot while using the wind instead of fighting it,” Auman said. “That knock down shot really separates the top players from the mediocre ones.”

The second day treated the two to better results, but the Americans still came up short.

“We got our butts handed to us but we played well,” Gray said. “They had birdies and we had pars.”

Gray ended the singles match-play with a 3 and 2 loss after saving an approach shot on the 14th hole followed by a bogey on 15. Gray drained a 20-foot putt downhill on 16, but her opponent made her putt on the hole to end the match.

“Match play isn’t my best and you really have to adjust to  [the style].” she said. “I’m happy with the way it went and I hit some good shots.”

Taylor Auman, left and Rachel Gray, second from left, pose with fellow USA teammates before their round at St. Andrews.

Taylor Auman, left and Rachel Gray, second from left, pose with fellow USA teammates before their round at St. Andrews.
Photos courtesy of Rachel Gray

Auman played with an area PGA professional in the match play singles format and trailed by four shots after five holes on the Kittock Course at St. Andrews. Things looked like a bleak Scottish afternoon until Auman fought back to trail by only two strokes after 12 holes. She lost the next two holes to return to a four-hole deficit with four holes to play.

Auman continued to stay alive as she won holes 15 and 16 before conceding the match after she and her opponent halved the 17th for a 2 and 1 final score. “It was a good battle,” Auman said of the test on the Kittock Course, which is known as a course with rolling hills along the coast.

Gray said she played 144 holes, including an 18-hole round on the famous Old Course at St. Andrews with Auman.

To earn a tee time, the two placed their names on a ballot and found out 24 hours before their tee time. The alternative to the lottery drawing was to wait in line overnight.

“We were very lucky and half of our group had to sleep overnight and stand in line next to the pro shop,” Auman said.

To add to the pressure of playing well under the spotlight, Gray was battling a case of possible food poisoning during the round. Bad chicken on a caesar salad made for an uncomfortable bus ride and tough round of golf to follow.

Gray credited her father’s message of playing through excuses as motivation to keep going. “I felt better so I went out to play and everyone talked about how hard the course was but it was different for me,” she said.

Gray said she had a new focus on surviving the round without doubling over in pain. “The conditions set up well for my game,” she said.

So well, in fact, that she carded an 82 on the par-76 course and Auman had an 84 or 85.

Auman said the fairway bunkers posed a lot of trouble. “It’s almost a penalty stroke to hit it out because you have to flop it out of there and it was frustrating,” she said.

She made up for the sand shots with great drives on 17 and 18.

The group played the course on Sunday which is when the grounds are opened up to the public as a park so spectators lined certain areas of the course.

The first hole has a road pass through the fairway, which took some getting used to for Auman.

“Walking up 18 was an incredible feeling, walking over the bridge and between the buildings was amazing,” Gray said. “On the 17th road hole people were clapping after I hit an approach shot to the green, but I tried not to think about it [when I hit the ball].”

Reading the green wasn’t an easy task for Gray either. “I knew it broke right to left and I was shaking all over and everyone is looking,” she said. “I told myself I had to make this, you’re going to make it and I drained it in the center [of the cup]. It was a good feeling and I couldn’t have asked for a better round.”

The group spent some time sightseeing around Edinburgh the day after playing the Old Course. Gray played the Castle Course at St. Andrews in the morning before the group toured the sights around the historic city.

The fall season for Concordia began Monday with captains’ practice and classes began the next day. The team’s first fall tournament is at Augustana College, Sept. 6-8.

Auman began her coaching duties Monday and met with the team on Tuesday before leading the morning workouts, which comes in handy with her exercise physiology undergraduate degree. She will help with other practices and at tournaments in addition to recruiting trips, specifically to Wisconsin during the fall prep season.

Jason Olson is at
jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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