After an outstanding sophomore year that included winning SEC and NCAA regional individual titles, Erica Popson was slowed last year with physical problems that resulted in thumb surgery.
Last weekend in the Liz Murphey Fall Preview in Athens, Ga., the Tennessee senior was slowed in the final round by what she realized were mental reasons.
But a talk with Lady Vols coach Judi Pavon on the trip home has her back in solid form.
Popson's 2-under-par 70 Friday at Holston Hills Country Club put her in a tie for second after the first day of the 16th annual Mercedes-Benz Collegiate Championships.
"She told me more or less that I needed to play more on the golf course and work it out on the golf course instead of standing on the range and working on something different every day," said Popson.
The entire Tennessee team also is feeling pretty good mentally, as the Lady Vols are tied for third — one stroke off the lead — after a 4-over 292.
The next-best Tennessee score was a 73 by Sara Monberg, who is tied for 12th. A.J. Newell had a 74, while Chessey Thomas shot a 75. Freshman Ashlee Pickerell's 84 was not counted.
The Lady Vols — who won the tournament in 2009 and 2010 — are tied with Texas-San Antonio and one shot behind leaders Penn State and Texas A&M in the 16-team field.
"I thought we played well," said Pavon. "We didn't do anything spectacular, but we didn't really make any mistakes, either. We kept ourselves in it."
She was especially pleased to see Popson bounce back after shooting 5-over in her final round last weekend.
"She needed a solid day today to get up her confidence and she did it," she said.
Popson trails Hana Lee of Northwestern by one stroke, and is tied with Sarah Beth Davis of Texas A&M and Laura Wearn of Furman.
Popson said she was aided in her preparation this week by a new strategy after the talk with Pavon.
"Instead of tinkering with the swing, I said, 'Let's learn to play with what we've got,' " she said.
For Monberg, a main concern was what to wear. Because she does not like to wear caps, and that was the only orange the Lady Vols had with their black outfits, she was sporting vintage-style knee-high socks with Tennessee colors on them.
"She wears polka-dot socks to make sure she has orange on," said Pavon with a laugh.
John Shearer is a freelance contributor.