By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –Lauren Coughlin’s good friends on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour include Caroline Inglis, an alumna of the University of Oregon. Inglis played for Ria Scott at the Pac-12 school, and the news that Scott was leaving Oregon to become head coach at Virginia saddened Inglis.
Coughlin’s response? “I said, ‘Well, now you know how I felt when Kim left.’ ”
In early June, after 11 seasons as head women’s coach at UVA, Kim Lewellen left to take the same position at Wake Forest, where she’s closer to her family in North Carolina. About a month later, Virginia athletics director Carla Williams hired Scott to succeed Lewellen.
Coughlin, who as a fifth-year senior in 2016 won the ACC individual title and led the Cavaliers to the team championship, knew little about Scott, who’d spent nine seasons as the Ducks’ leader.
“But Caroline said she was great,” Coughlin said, and others in the golf world shared that opinion of Scott.
“I heard nothing but good things about her,” Coughlin said, “and then I met her on the Lawn [in August]. She’s awesome.”
At UVA, Scott took over a program with a solid foundation. Back intact from 2017-18 is the lineup that finished fourth at the ACC tournament and 22ndat the NCAA championships: seniors Anna Redding, Katharine Patrick and Morgan Gonzales, junior Julia Ford and sophomore Beth Lillie.
“Ria can kind of hit the ground running,” Coughlin said.
That’s been the case so far. In Scott’s debut with the Wahoos, they rallied to win Michigan State’s Mary Fossum Invitational this month. Redding, coming off a terrific summer, shot 9-under 207 for 54 holes to tie for first place in East Lansing, Mich. Patrick shot 216, Lillie 218, Ford 219 and Gonzales 226.
“I wish some of those fourth-years had a couple more years,” Scott said, smiling, but she’s excited about the program’s potential.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe we could win a national championship here or continue to contend for ACC championships,” said Scott, who lives in Crozet with her husband Drew Scott, a former pro golfer, and their two children.
UVA’s first head coach was Jan Mann, who launched the program in 2002. Lewellen succeeded Mann, who’s now the head coach at North Carolina, in 2007. Lewellen guided the ‘Hoos to ACC titles in 2015 and ’16.
In 2011 and again in ’12, Virginia placed fourth at the NCAA championships.
Scott said she’s known Lewellen in coaching circles for years.
“I have a ton of respect for her,” Scott said. “She was really known for developing some incredible student-athletes, and I guess that’s what she and Jan had to do when they were starting a program.”
The only head coaches in program history had a chance meeting in Northern Ireland this summer. Mann, Lewellen and Scott found themselves watching the same group at the Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship.
“Kim was like, ‘Do you want to snap a selfie?’ ” Scott recalled with a laugh.
When Mann and Lewellen were in Charlottesville, their program’s practice facilities at Birdwood Golf Course did not compare favorably with those of Virginia’s ACC counterparts.
Scott walked into a much more attractive situation. UVA’s men’s and women’s programs will be moving in the coming weeks to the new Dean Family Golf Performance Center at Birdwood. The center includes six indoor hitting bays, two bays for video analysis, a putting studio, a fitness room, locker rooms and lounges for the players, coaches’ offices, a club repair room, a conference space, and a nutrition station.
“I think it’ll really, really help with recruiting,” Coughlin said. “We didn’t have the indoor facility before. We had the Cage, but the Cage is the Cage.
“Now we’ll have locker rooms, and you really feel like you have a home. It’s yours, and you’re not living out of your car, essentially. Our cars were our locker rooms.”
Scott said: “The potential to recruit to this type of facility is incredible, and I truly believe that Virginia golf can attract a different type of student-athlete than when the program started. The appeal has been national and international, from what I’ve seen, and one of the things I told Carla was that, in the time that I’ve been at Virginia, I’ve already received a lot more recruiting communication than I would have in an equivalent time frame in my previous job.
“Obviously, that speaks to the prestige of the school, the quality of the golf program, and the known success of [the program’s alumni].”
Scott, a native of the Philippines, starred in golf at California, which like UVA is a prestigious public university.
“I can definitely relate to what the student-athletes are doing here, because of my experience at Cal,” Scott said. “But one of the things that I didn’t quite know until I was coming here for my interview was just how successful as a whole athletic department Virginia has been, across the board.”
One of Scott’s projects this summer was meeting all of her golfers in person. Those conversations took place away from Charlottesville.
“I went to their hometowns or where they were working or where they were at a tournament,” Scott said, “put faces to names and got to know them and their families a little bit. That was wonderful.”
From her time at Oregon, Scott was already familiar with Lillie, who’s from Fullerton, Calif.
“I recruited pretty heavily in California with my previous job,” Scott said. “You see Beth Lillie hit a golf ball, and you don’t forget what that looks like. It’s pretty good.”
Calle Nielson, UVA’s assistant coach for Lewellen’s final four years, remains in that position. Scott said the decision to retain Nielson, a former All-American at UVA, was an easy one.
She’d been impressed with Nielson as a coach, Scott said, and “I knew what a great player she had been in college. Obviously, she gives me a wonderful understanding of where this program has been, because she’s lived it, more than I can read and try to learn on-line. She’s a huge reason why the program is where it is today, not only from her playing, but from her coaching.”