The 2004 women’s golf team won a national title despite coach Julie Garner’s suspension.
Coach Julie Garner enjoys a view of the course. (Photo courtesy Jim Hogue Photos) Going into the 2004 postseason, everything seemed perfect for the Rollins women’s golf team. The Tars had cruised to the NCAA Division II national championship the year before, returned four of their top five players, and were competing just miles from campus. Another title seemed assured.
But then the NCAA suspended coach Julie Garner for the postseason because the Tars’ regular-season schedule didn’t include enough regional Division II teams. So, how would the Tars respond?
Pretty well. They won the national championship by 68 strokes, 29 more than the year before.
“Obviously, I’m not a very good coach,” Garner says, jokingly. “They played much better when I wasn’t there than when I was there.”
Charlotte Campbell Daughan ’06 shot a 299 to win the four-day competition, Freddie Seeholzer ’04 shot a 300 to finish second, and Mariana De Biase ’06 tied for third. Ulrika Ljungman ’05 and Sabrina Gassner ’04 finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
The victory was the second of four consecutive national championships and part of five over six years.
Carolyn Andrews, then the head golf pro at the Tars’ home course of Tuscawilla Country Club, filled in for Garner. She was an All-American at Oklahoma State University and received a national championship ring.
“I literally gave out grapes, apples, and Gatorade,” Andrews says. “I was there to give them food and be positive. I didn’t do anything; all the work had been done. I was a friend helping a team out.”
Garner’s suspension didn’t stop her from watching. Each morning, she’d drop the players off and then drive to a friend’s house on the 15th hole. When one of her players made a good putt on the par 5, she’d hear Garner’s unique clap.
For a better view, the two drove around the course. Garner remembers stopping at a crossing when one of her players and a rules official passed. “I was slumping down in the seat,” Garner says. “We were so bad at doing it that we said we should never be private investigators. My joke was the NCAA was going to come after her next.”
The excursion was a better plan than what Garner kidded she could’ve done. “I thought about having a lawn chair and a piña colada and sitting right outside the out-of-bound stakes,” she says. “But I thought that might be tweaking them a little too much.”
Garner wasn’t coaching because she decided to protest the late implementation of an NCAA rule that required teams to play 25 percent of their schedules against local Division II teams. She didn’t want to back out of previous commitments or add events and costs to her budget.
“I think we ended up at 19-point something,” Garner says. “Basically we were penalized for playing a tougher schedule than everybody else. But there was nothing I would’ve done differently.
“Sometimes you have to say, ‘This isn’t right.’ That’s what you have to teach kids,” she says. “There are things in your life that are worth fighting for.”
Daughan believes the Tars needed a schedule filled with Division I teams to improve. Their performance makes the point hard to argue.
The suspension, though, fit what Garner describes as her coaching style. She does everything she can during practice but just “drives the van and pays the bills” after that. Her players must rely upon the many hours of practice throughout the season while competing.
Garner entered the postseason worried her team might be overconfident—they won the Sunshine State Conference by a whopping 62 strokes—but it seems her suspension boosted the Tars’ performance.
“It didn’t slow us down at all,” Daughan says. “[We said], ‘We’re going to do this for her.’ It only motivated us more to win.”