Expectations have long been high for Arizona women’s golf. As a member of the Wildcats’ national championship team in 2000, Laura Ianello ’07 knows that well. Now, in her 13th season as head coach at her alma mater, Ianello is tasked with a bounce-back season in Tucson. After three consecutive appearances in the NCAA championship semifinals — including another national championship in 2018 — the Wildcats failed to advance out of regionals last spring.
Ianello spoke with Sarah Kezele ’11 about sending three players to the LPGA Tour last season, the new William M. “Bill” Clements Golf Center at Tucson Country Club and what sets Arizona apart from other top-tier programs across the country.
Last year, just before your competitive season started, you lost three stars on your team to the LPGA Tour. That resulted in a down year for the program, though you were just two shots away from qualifying for the NCAA championships. How did you handle supporting the newly qualified pros while regrouping with the rest of your roster?
We knew if Bianca (Pagdanganan ’19), Vivian (Hou) and Yu-Sang (Hou ’23) earned their full LPGA status, they were going to turn pro. We wanted them to succeed, but it was tough because we couldn’t predict the future. We started the season very, very, very strong. But then, when you lose your three best players to the LPGA Tour, we didn't have enough time to get caught up in recruiting to replace those ladies. You can’t lose three of your starting five basketball players and expect to compete within one month’s notice. So, last year was definitely a down season. But we battled and, on a high note, we had three ladies represent the University of Arizona on the LPGA Tour, which is most of these ladies' ultimate goal.
With that shake-up last season, what is the hope for this year?
We've got a score to settle because of how things played out last year. Our players are a little bit more seasoned now. They’re a little bit more mature. They were pretty frustrated that they didn’t get to play in the national championship. We also have two freshmen and a transfer who chose to play at Arizona because we have that championship legacy, so they’re embracing that. Our goal is to get back to the national championship, qualify for the match-play portion and then give it a shot — because once you get into match play at NCAAs, it’s anybody's ballgame. These ladies are hungry, they’re motivated and I’m hopeful that we’re going to surprise some people this spring.
You have a gorgeous new facility under construction right now: the Clements Golf Center at Tucson Country Club. What’s the latest on that project?
They’ve finished the private practice area of our new facility, which is so exciting. We’re hoping that by February 2024, the clubhouse should be ready to roll. There are so many amazing people who are giving back to our program, which helps us continue to succeed. If you don’t have the best facilities, it’s hard to keep up on the recruiting scene, so getting this new facility will be instrumental to our success.
Facilities aside, how else does Arizona stand apart from other college golf powerhouses?
We are so blessed that Tucson is such a great golf community. There are more than 40 courses surrounding the Tucson area and, in the Pac-12, I know that no other school has access to courses around town the way that we do in Tucson. We are welcomed everywhere in this community, and that is something that’s so beautiful about Tucson. It’s this close-knit college town where everybody supports the red and blue. It’s like nothing I've ever experienced, and it just makes us that much better.