For Clemson women's golf 'pioneers,' the long wait is almost over

J.T. Horton: One day, when you bring your grandkids back here, you'll be able to say 'I helped start the program'

Women's Golf - Lauren Salazar

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - Lauren Salazar

For coach J.T. Horton and the Clemson women's golf team, the long wait is almost over.

On Sunday morning, one of the Tigers' six players will step to the tee at the 367-yard, par-four opening hole at Yeamans Hall Club in Charleston and will strike the first competitive shot in Clemson program history.

Just over two years ago, Horton - an experienced program-starter at Tulane - accepted the challenge of coaching Clemson's long-anticipated program.

He stepped into the job with a vision and applied relentless energy on the recruiting trail, and he ended up with Clemson's first generation of players, a group he believes will vault onto the national scene and soon be competing for championships.

The six young women who'll comprise Clemson's first team - sisters Taylor and Ashlan Ramsey, Lauren Salazar, McKenzie Talbert, Sloan Shanhan and Jessica Hoang - all arrive on the college scene with impressive junior resumes.

Ashlan Ramsey is, in fact, the No. 1-ranked amateur player in the world.

But it's not only their golf credentials that sets this group apart, says Horton.

Women's Golf - Taylor Ramsey

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - Taylor Ramsey

He went out on the recruiting trail looking for leaders, not followers - players willing to take a risk and commit themselves to a then non-existent team.

Horton wanted pioneers.

All of the players on the Clemson roster - all freshmen in terms of college eligibility - could be playing for well-established, nationally prestigious programs.

Instead, they bought what Horton was selling.

"To be honest, what I sold was the opportunity to be on the inaugural team at Clemson," Horton said. "To get the players we want to represent Clemson and make us a national championship caliber team, I have a sell a vision and a passion.

Women's Golf - McKenzie Talbert

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - McKenzie Talbert

"That was sort of what I was able to do as a coach. I shared the vision of what I expected and the type of players I needed to be here.

"The thing I told these players is that they can come here and set records and let somebody else chase you, or you can go somewhere else and chase somebody else's records.

"But at the end of the day, if you want to help set the bar for this program for years and years to come, you'll have that opportunity - every standard and every record."

Women's Golf - Ashlan Ramsey

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - Ashlan Ramsey

The members of Clemson's first team probably have a hard time envisioning themselves as grandmothers. But Horton struck a chord when he told them: "Then one day, when you bring your grandkids back here, you'll be able to say 'I helped start the program,' and helped turn Clemson women's golf into what it is today."

The first player to answer Horton's call was Talbert, who grew up as 'a Clemson girl' in Edgefield, S.C. and found that the beginning of the Tiger program crossed paths perfectly with her own career. She committed to Clemson during her junior high school season.

Women's Golf - Sloan Shanahan

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - Sloan Shanahan

Next came two players who, over the past 12 months, have been the Tigers' on-campus mainstays - Taylor Ramsey, from Milledgeville, Ga., and Salazar, from Santa Clara, Calif.

With Ramsey and Salazar on board, Horton then turned his attention to the class of 2013, adding Shanahan, from Suwanee, Ga., Hoang, from North Augusta, S.C., and Ashlan Ramsey to Talbert's class.

"Having Taylor and Lauren here for a year has been a big help," said Horton. "What we tried to do with them was to put them in position to provide a leadership role for the other four young ladies that were coming in. They know what it's like to be a freshman in terms of going to classes and staying on top of practice, working out and study all - all the things every student-athlete goes through.

Women's Golf - Jessica Hoang

Photo by Mark Crammer

Women's Golf - Jessica Hoang

"It was hard for them, being here for a year and not competing. We tried to have a lot of fun with it, creating opportunities similar to the tournament experiences they would normally get. They'd play as much as they could in the off-season in individual amateur events, but that's just not the same.

"We tried to help them say focused on the end-goal, and help them stay with the process."

The added benefit is that both Salazar and Ramsey are better players than they were a year ago.

"Both of them are in much better shape, fundamentally and mentally, than when they came," Horton said. "That's something I always look for as a coach - to see that a player is developing. If I can make sure that each player is developing individually as they should, at the pace that they should, then our team is going be what we want it to be by the end of the year."

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