Women's golf regionals
What: NCAA regionals
Where: Columbus, Ohio; Ohio State's Golf Club-Scarlet Course
The field: 18 teams and six individuals; the top 6 seeds: 1. Florida; 2. Florida State; 3. South Carolina; 4. Arkansas; 5. Colorado; 6. Texas A&M
At stake: The top 6 teams and top 3 individuals not on those teams will advance to the NCAA Championship.
Colorado's lineup: Esther Lee, Sr.; Brittany Fan; Jr.; Robyn Choi, Fr.; Kirsty Hodgkins, Fr.; Lauryn Keating, So.
For years, Kirsty Hodgkins and Robyn Choi would run into each other in junior golf tournaments in their native Australia.
Growing up only about an hour apart, they were two of the top junior women's players in Queensland and found themselves often competing against each other.
"Most of the time we'd be in the final groups together, so we'd chat as we go around," Hodgkins said.
Now they are freshmen on the Colorado women's golf team and playing significant roles for a squad that will compete in the NCAA regionals this week. The Buffs will take part in the Columbus (Ohio) Regional, to be played at Ohio State's Golf Club-Scarlet Course from Monday-Wednesday.
Although they are just freshmen, Choi and Hodgkins have proven to be big-time players for the Buffs, ranking third and fourth, respectively, in stroke average this spring.
"They're a very big key, a very big part of our program," head coach Anne Kelly said. "They're both very hard workers, they're great team members."
Hodgkins, who posted several wins during her junior career, posted a stroke average of 72.64 in the fall — one of the best first semesters ever by a CU freshman. She's had a 75.07 average this spring.
"She really came in ready to go," Kelly said. "It was really fun to see."
Choi also won several tournaments as a junior player and has posted a 74.7 average this spring.
Of the two freshmen, Hodgkins was the first to commit to CU. When the Buffs needed another player for their recruiting class, Hodgkins recommended Choi, who then made the choice to come to CU.
"That's when we started getting excited and talking about what the college experience would be like," Choi said. "We bonded a little more."
In Australia, Choi and Hodgkins weren't close friends. They really only knew each other through golf. Since arriving in Boulder, however, they've formed a bond and leaned on each other in the transition to a new country and new surroundings.
"Just to have someone there that I know, that helps a lot rather than being here by myself," Choi said. "She really helped me transition better and quicker to Colorado."
Hodgkins joked that it's nice to always have at least one person around who understands her accent. What Hodgkins has mostly enjoyed, however, is getting to know Choi on a new level.
"There's a whole other side to Robyn that I didn't even know was there," Hodgkins said. "Getting to know her more has been awesome. She used to be a very quiet person and now she's turned into this crazy, almost outgoing person, which is really awesome to see."
A pair of talented upperclassmen — senior Esther Lee and junior Brittany Fan — has led the Buffs this year, but there's no question the team is enjoying better success because of the contributions of Choi and Hodgkins, who have combined for 10 top-20 individual finishes this year. That's why Kelly has no doubt they can handle any pressure that might come with playing in the regionals.
"They're definitely ready and they're both competitors," she said.
CU, which finished as runner-up in the Pac-12 Championship, is ranked No. 21 by Golfweek, and has a great chance to advance to the NCAA Championship for just the second time in program history (the top six teams this week advance).
As far as Hodgkins is concerned, that's not pressure; that's an opportunity.
"Yeah, I love it," she said of playing in a big tournament. "It makes me play better."
So far, Hodgkins and Choi have responded to the challenges put in front of them this year, and look forward to doing it again this week.
"The chance to be able to make it to nationals is a really good experience," Choi said. "If we play how we did in the Pac-12 last week, I think we could get through it and make it to nationals."
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.