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Better than Stacy? Fassi constructing impressive résumé with Razorbacks

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Photographs by Ben Goff

Arkansas golfer Maria Fassi smiles after finishing her round on Monday, June 19, 2017, during the local qualifier for the LPGA Walmart Northwest Arkansas Championship presented by P&G at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Former NCAA champion and 12-time LPGA Tour winner Stacy Lewis set the bar for women's golf at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, but current junior Maria Fassi is poised to challenge Lewis' legacy.

Not even Lewis put together a season quite like the ride Fassi will take into the NCAA Championships this week at Karsten Creek Golf Course in Stillwater, Okla.

Maria Fassi glance

Class Junior

Major Recreation and Sports Management

Hometown Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico

Family Parents Andres and Fabiana; brothers Sebastian, Juan Pablo and Franco.

2018 stroke average 69.67

Noteworthy No. 1 ranked NCAA women’s golfer heading into the NCAA Championships. … Has won a school-record seven tournaments this season and has been the medalist 10 times in her career. … Career stroke average of 72.09. … First NCAA regional medalist for Arkansas after an 8 under at the NCAA Austin Regional on May 9. … Team has counted all 30 of her rounds this season, and she has a school record 25 rounds of par or better in 2017-2018. … Has posted 12 career rounds in the 60s. … Lost SEC medalist honors in extra holes to South Carolina’s Ainhoa Olarra on April 20.

Fassi, the No. 1 ranked player in college golf, has seven individual titles this season, including a victory at the NCAA Austin Regional on May 9. She is on pace to become the first Razorback with a stroke average lower than 70 for a season.

"They're getting close in their awards," said Arkansas Coach Shauna Taylor, who recruited both players for the Razorbacks. "I think Maria's big deal is she wants to leave her mark on Arkansas women's golf. She has a year and a week left to do that, and she's excited about what that looks like."

Fassi, a native of Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, earned entry to the U.S. Women's Open on Monday with a two-round total of 1-under par 143. She'll lead the No. 2 Razorbacks into the 24-team NCAA Championships on Friday.

"I think everyone is in a great place and playing good golf and feeling good," Fassi said. "We've been preparing since August for this weekend, and I think we're more prepared than anyone else. Winning SECs and going on to win the regional gives us the confidence to let us know we have what it takes to be the national champions."

Fassi lowered her season stroke average to 69.67 by outdueling Texas A&M's Maddie Szeryk for medalist honors at the UT Golf Club. Fassi posted three consecutive birdies on Nos. 14-16 to surge to the victory.

"She's got a great head on her shoulders," said Arkansas junior Dylan Kim, who finished third in Austin. "She's a smart player. She's a disciplined player. But she plays with a lot of passion, too. I think her mindset is incredible."

Fassi went 3-0 in match play at the SEC Championships, just as teammate Kaylee Benton did to help the Razorbacks defeat No. 10 South Carolina in the final.

"Obviously, Maria is No. 1 in the country," Benton said. "She's kind of a super major, but everyone else plays behind her just as good as we can. We can post a couple of under-par rounds, so it's a pretty stacked team."

Fassi spoke more about the team dynamic than herself Wednesday.

"I think the group of people that we have is probably the best one we've had so far," she said.

Fassi said the Razorbacks were fueled by the desire to pick up ill teammate Cara Gorlei during their school regional record of 17 under in the second round at the Austin Regional. Senior Alana Uriell led the way that day with a 65, a 7-under round that was also a school regional record.

Gorlei was under the weather and shot a 3 over.

"We all played for Cara," Fassi said. "That's one of the things our team is great this year about is we rarely play for ourselves. I think that showed in that second round.

"We were all playing for Cara, and I mean we demolished everyone in the second round. It was like insane. What we did was amazing. That just shows how strong of a team we are."

Fassi has fine-tuned her short game this season to complement her power off the tee.

"Obviously, length plays a big piece in Maria's game," Taylor said. "That's what I think people are in awe of, but I think what people probably don't recognize is the fact that she's putted amazing this year.

"She averaged 28 putts in Austin, which is maybe a little better than the top 15-20 putters on the LPGA Tour. That's probably been the huge difference-maker. She made a 9-footer to win in Austin. She's made a lot of clutch putts and up and downs that kind of go unnoticed when you just put a number on the board."

The Razorbacks won a big recruiting battle for Fassi, Taylor said, and the help of ex-Razorbacks Gaby Lopez and Regina Plasencia -- also natives of Mexico -- played a role.

"I was really good friends with Gaby's brothers, and I've known her since I was like seven, so she was an important piece of the puzzle," Fassi said. "She said, 'The place is amazing, people are great, it's a great college town,' and I decided I should go visit.

"Regina was here, and there were a couple of Latino guys on the men's team and they all said amazing things about Arkansas. I thought it must be pretty good, and then I came and saw for myself and knew exactly what they were talking about."

Sports on 05/17/2018

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