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Virginia Tech senior Emily Mahar could have gone to a more established women’s golf program out of high school. She was part of four straight state title teams at Xavier Prep, which has won 37 titles since 1974.

She doesn’t regret that decision one bit. Mahar is back in Arizona this week for the NCAA championships being held at Grayhawk Golf Club. Virginia Tech is fielding a team for only the sixth season and this is the first time it has qualified for the national championship.

The No. 14 Hokies qualified for the event with a fourth-place showing at last week’s Stanford Regional, with Mahar finishing sixth individually at 2-under 211.

“I’m the tour guide,” she laughed, earlier this week. “I know all the places to go, places to eat so, yes, they’re relying on me for that.”

The Hokies have relied on Mahar for much more than that. She is second on the team in scoring average at 72.50 per 18 holes, just a shade behind sophomore teammate Becca Dinunzio’s 72.22. Both earned All-ACC honors the past season, becoming the first from the school to be handed that recognition.

The chance to be part of the foundation was something coach Carol Robertson emphasized when she was recruiting Mahar, a native of Brisbane, Australia who moved to Arizona when she was 13 after father James got a job transfer for his work in engineering.

“That’s definitely something we sold to her, that she could be the one putting her name in the record book, setting a standard,” Robertson said. “I told her, `The players to come will be chasing you.’ “

While Mahar had a lot of options when it came to choosing college, a trip to the Blacksburg campus sealed the deal.  There wasn’t anything she didn’t like.

“It’s a nice campus and it it really seemed like a nice family atmosphere. It felt like a home away from home,” said Mahar, who is majoring in human development.

The Hokies are going to have to make up some ground to make the cut to 15 teams which will come after Sunday’s third round. They are in 22nd place, six strokes out of 15th place. Maher shot a 1-over 73 on Saturday for a two-day total of  3-over 147 which places puts her tied for 34th.

The tournament here begins a very busy stretch for Mahar, who will compete in the U.S. Women’s Open June 3-6 at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. She earned a berth in that event by winning a sudden death playoff for third place at a qualifier at Belle Haven County Club in Alexandria, Virginia in April.

Then will come her wedding to Jackson Gray, a 2020 graduate of Virginia Tech. Mahar’s family moved back to Australia during  her freshman year of college so the coronavirus travel restrictions will prevent them from attending the wedding which will take place in Virginia. A bigger celebration will be planned when the global heath pandemic has subsided.

But for now Mahar is focused on the task at hand.

She came into the event with some momentum having won the Golfweek Caledonia Amateur in South Carolina last fall and chalking up five top-20 outings this spring.

Mahar is known for her power game, with good length off the tee but Robertson also says her player has a strong mental approach as well.

“You would never know if she is three stokes up of three strokes down,” Robertson said. “If she makes a mistake she is very good at putting that behind her and just focusing on the next shot In golf sometimes that’s hard to do.”

Mahar, 21,  has also benefited from a unique relationship with LPGA touring pro Karrie Webb, a native Australian who has been awarding scholarships and mentoring players from her former country since 2008.

Each recipient receives funding to be spent on international travel and playing experiences. The chance to accompany Webb during a tournament stop is typically included but that was not part of the reward last year because of the pandemic. Instead Mahar and Gabi Ruffels, a product of USC, spent a week with Webb at her home in South Florida. Of course golfing was part of the experience, but the two upstarts also spent time with Webb on her boat.

“It was an unbelievable experience. I learned so much from her,” Mahar said. “It wasn’t all just about golf but life things as well. Not everybody gets that kind of experience from someone so well established that has accomplished what everybody that plays this sport would love to do.”

NCAA Women’s Championships

Round 2

Team standings (top 5)

1. Stanford -7, 569

2. Duke -3, 573

3. Texas +1, 577

4. Florida State +7, 583

5. Wake Forest +9, 585

Also: 9. Arizona+14, 590

11. Arizona State +15, 591

Individual leaders

1. Rachel Heck, Stanford -8, 136

2. Gina Kim, Duke, -3, 141

Lauren Hartlage, Louisville -3, 141

4. Emma Spitz, UCLA  -2, 142

Reach the reporter at or 602 444-4783.  Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

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