By Rob Daniels
You can call Fanny Cnops a 4-percenter. And unless you somehow disapprove of excellence, that’s not a knock.
According to the comprehensive rankings of Golfweek, the UNCG Spartan from Gent, Belgium, is among the top 4 percent of all players in NCAA women’s golf, and she’s doing it as a freshman. In the process, she has become the first Spartan to qualify for an NCAA regional as an individual in nine years.
“I didn’t know that,” Cnops said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel honored to be at UNCG, so it feels good that I can do something.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
Golfweek has Cnops at No. 51 nationally in its most recent ratings, which are based on head-to-head play in tournaments against other elite performers. There are 256 Division I women’s teams, each of which is represented by five players per round. That’s 1,280 competitors right there, and that doesn’t even consider members of a squad who don’t crack the starting lineup.
So standing 51st among 1,280 is good for the top 3.98 percent of the populace at least. If we assume eight players per team in all, Cnops exceeds 97.5 percent of the Division I universe.
And that universe of college golfers is contained to the United States. Americans may not realize it, but this notion of sports and studies is almost uniquely ours. Cnops attended college in her homeland for a year but had to play golf on her own time. The two just couldn’t mix.
So she sent her competitive resume to a company that essentially acts as a matchmaker for Belgian athletes seeking opportunities in the U.S. Before too long, 52 schools had contacted Cnops, who pared her options to UNCG and the University of Denver. And, yes, she knew that the thin mountain air would add considerable length to her 270-yard drives. That ultimately didn’t matter.
“I chose UNCG because I felt at home here,” she said. “I belonged here.”
She didn’t need any time to get acclimated in any sense to her new surroundings. She won a fall tournament near Kiawah Island, S.C., and for good measure, she claimed a spring event played in part on that same course. She went on to be named the Southern Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
According to the number-pulverizers over at golfstat.com, the Spartan stands second in total scoring (72.34) among freshmen. She’s first in birdies (96); first in playing par-5 holes; second on par-3s; tied for fifth on par-4s; and second in greens in regulation.
She’s the eighth-ranked freshman on the Golfweek national list after finishing in the top 10 in eight tournaments this year. That body of work got her an invite to the NCAA regional in State College, Pa., next week. Each of the three regionals will send its top eight teams and the two best individuals not on those advancing teams to the NCAA championships outside of Nashville, Tenn., from May 22-25.
“In the beginning, I had no idea how to get into regionals or what that level was,” she said. “As time passed by in tournaments, my coach and my teammates explained to me what I needed to do: stay in the top 60. I mainly focused on the team going to regionals, and we missed it by two spots. It was a bit sad, but I’m still happy to go individually.”
Cnops will be the first Spartan to play in an NCAA regional since Jenny Gleason did so in 2003.
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