Friday, February 7, 2014

Stetson's Freshman Kutz Aims High for the Hatters

A total of four top-15 finishes – including three top 10s – in five tournaments would be a good beginning to the 2013-14 season for most golfers. 

It becomes an ever better inauguration to what could become an impressive season considering those results came in the first collegiate action for a true freshman. Now with a taste of success in her first few months of collegiate golf, Stetson’s Alessandra Kutz is ready for more. 

“I thought my first collegiate semester went really well,” said Kutz. “There were a couple of rounds that could have been better, but I really played well and developed a lot of confidence. In my first tournament particularly I played well and throughout the fall I realized that I could play college golf. 

“When we finished the fall schedule I didn’t want it to end. I am ready for the spring to begin. I think the biggest thing for me that came out of the fall is that I was able to develop some momentum. Importantly, I also realized that I am maturing mentally as well.” 

Kutz opened the season finishing tied for ninth in the 60-player field of the Golfweek Program Challenge, carding rounds of 73-77-70/220. She proceeded to record three more top-15 finishes, highlighted by her second-place finish in the Hatter Classic, also with a three-round total of 220. Her rounds of 72-76-72 helped Stetson claim its seventh consecutive title in the event. Her worst performance of the fall, a tie for 21st in the UNCG Starmount Fall Classic, was one in which she played while trying to overcome a case of food poisoning. She shot 224 (80-70-74) in the event. 

“I think Alessandra performed beyond expectation in the fall,” said Stetson Women's Golf Head Coach Floyd Kerr. “Her competitive background was good for her because she had a lot of success in junior golf and it helped her in the transition to the college game. You see that clearly, because as a freshman she leads the team in stroke average.” 

Along with leading her team, Kutz emerges from the fall 2013 season fifth in the A-Sun in stroke average at 74.21, checking in as one of only two freshmen in the top 10 of the conference.

Given Kutz’s success in high school and junior golf, she could have chosen a number of places to play collegiately. She was a four-time winner of the Florida Women's State Golf Association (FWSGA) Junior Girls Championship, taking the title in 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2010. Kutz also captured four Florida Junior Tour events in her career and qualified for the US Girls Junior championship in 2010 as well as the US Women's Amateur in 2012. Yet Stetson was a fit for several reasons. 

“I love the small campus, as I consider myself to be very shy and I like having that close-knit community,” said Kutz. “I also like the fact that Coach Kerr is always there for us, but yet he makes us be independent and puts it on us to get it done. He is very positive, which is good for me because I can get down on myself quickly because of my high expectations. He is not critical, and he helps us understand our games and what it takes to improve them. Then he puts it on us to do that. 

“Then of course Stetson is close to home (30 minutes from Sanford, Fla.) and it gives me a good balance that while I am not at home, I am close enough to be there when I want to be.” 

Kutz’s ability and the intangibles that she possesses often make for memorable players, and she embraces the inevitable comparisons to a former Hatter and one of the A-Sun’s most decorated women’s golfers, Alexandra Buelow. 

“I was most familiar with the A-Sun because of Alex Buelow, who was a great player in the A-Sun and here at Stetson,” Kutz recalls. “In fact, she has been a real inspiration to me."

Buelow was the 2010 A-Sun Freshman of the Year, the 2012 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and was a three-time A-Sun Player of the Year (2010, 2011, 2012) and three-time A-Sun All-Conference selection.

“I have known about her since I was about nine or 10, as I would play in tournaments a few of years behind her. I would see all of the trophies from those events with her name on them, and since then I have wanted to achieve her caliber of play and win as much as she did. Now that I have been through a semester I understand what she was able to accomplish, because there are some really good golfers and teams in this league. And, like her,I want to be the A-Sun Freshman of the Year.” 

Kerr says that while it is a bit early to begin the comparisons to one of his star pupils, he does acknowledge Kutz’s potential to reach Buelow’s status before concluding her career. 

“Alessandra has a lot of confidence, she has clearly defined goals and is one who is good about finding the course for practice,” said Kerr. “She wants to be good, and she has the intangibles to be good. I believe that she has the ability and the ethic to be as good or better than Alexandra Buelow by the end of her career here.”

Kutz's other intangibles such as her ability in the classroom, her character, and her communication skills also led Kerr to award the freshman the Babs Steffens Endowed Scholarship. Kutz keeps in regular communication with Steffens, a former player and longtime supporter of Stetson Women's Golf, who now also has her name associated with the program's fundraising tournament on February 24 at Victoria Hills Golf Club. For at least the next three years, the event will be known as the Babs Steffens Hatter Cup, named in honor of one of the pioneers in women’s collegiate golf at Stetson University.

So after five events where does the freshman see her game in comparison to her peers? 

“I feel like I don’t really do one thing better than another, but rather I do everything well enough,” she said. “I guess I am best off the tee, because I do not like missing fairways. I feel like if you begin the hole well, then you can finish well.” 

Kerr also knows that she could have played better in the fall, but appreciates Kutz’s ability and her willingness to do what it takes to make her and her team better. 

“She is a hard worker, probably one of the top three hardest working players I have ever had here in my eight years at Stetson,” Kerr continued. "And just as importantly, she is all-in for Stetson, and she believes in good team goals as well as her own. 

“Individually, good players find a way around the course when they are not playing particularly well, and she has that knack. It is an ability that separates players at this level.” 

Part of a team seemingly blessed with experience and undiscovered talent, Kutz would like to make her freshman season even more memorable by helping the Hatters return to the top of the conference. 

“I definitely think the A-Sun title is a legitimate goal for us,” said Kutz. “We have a team of five experienced seniors with a couple of freshmen who expect to make an impact. We have not yet peaked as a team together, and I think each one of us knows what it would mean is we were able to accomplish that at the right time.” 

Kerr, guardedly at this point in the season, echoes much of the Kutz’s sentiment. “As a team we had good rounds in the fall and played solid golf, but not as good as we can put together. We have the ability to have a better spring and the potential is there for us to be one of the better teams in the conference. 

“Our team chemistry is pretty good, because they sort of feed off one another. Things are very competitive right now, as we have experience back with five seniors along with a pair of talented freshmen. I think they are beginning to realize we could have something special here.”

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