Missing senior star Sally Watson, the women’s golf team struggled in its first tournament of the season, finishing 11th in a field of 15 at Vanderbilt’s Mason Rudolph Women’s Championship this weekend. Watson, college golf’s 50th-ranked player as of last spring, missed the tournament to represent Scotland at the World Amateur Team Championships in Turkey.
Although the team didn’t score well, highly-touted freshmen Mariah Stackhouse and Lauren Kim acquitted themselves admirably in their first college starts, finishing 17th and 28th, respectively, to lead the Cardinal.
“We have to work on short game–that was one of the big issues this time around,” Kim said. “I also think some of it was mental too, staying in the present moment, staying focused, committing to every shot and just trusting that we put in the work and that’s why we’re competing at the level we are.”
Players were generally disappointed with the result, but Stackhouse and junior Marissa Mar agreed that this first tournament was an important team bonding experience.
“I think it says a lot when [as] a team we didn’t perform as well as we wanted, but we still had a great time,” Stackhouse said. “That just shows what a great team we have and what a great bond everybody’s formed in just these past two weeks.”
Stackhouse joins the Cardinal having won 97 junior tournaments, including two Georgia Women’s Amateur Championships and the 2009 PGA Georgia Women’s Open. Entering the season, Golf World named her one of college golf’s Top 50 Players to Watch. Kim won the 2009 California State Junior Girls Amateur and has, along with Stackhouse, been named a top-10 high school prospect by Golfweek.com.
Also new is head coach Anne Walker, who comes to Stanford after four years as head coach at UC-Davis, where she won the Big West Coach of the Year Award three times. She replaces longtime head coach Caroline O’Connor, who took the team to 15 NCAA Championship tournament appearances in her 17 years as coach. The Cardinal’s best finish in that time was a second-place national finish in 2000.
“[Walker] has filled [O’Connors’] shoes with confidence [and] graciousness,” Mar said. “She’s taking this team and really building a championship team, and I could not be more confident in her ability to do so.”
Walker hopes to draw inspiration from famously successful Stanford coaches as she builds up the golf program.
“I’ve read a ton about Tara VanDerveer and Jim Harbaugh since I was hired,” she said. “I wanted to understand how they came here and turned programs around. They were tough and they went blue-collar, and this season is huge in setting the direction and values for this program for years to come.”
This year’s team is young, with the two freshmen and sophomore Mariko Tumangan likely to be consistent contributors in the lineup. Tumangan finished last season ranked 76th in the country and was, along with Watson, named an All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention.
Anxious to rejoin her teammates as soon as she finishes next weekend’s tournament with Scotland, Watson said she sees a lot of potential in this year’s team.
“The team has a very strong chance this year to compete with the best teams in the country and contend for a national championship,” she said. “Everyone seems to have improved from last year, and the freshmen are already showing that they mean business and are going to challenge to be the number one player on the team.”
The Cardinal plays in two more tournaments before a winter hiatus. On Oct. 8, five players will fly to Washington to play in the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational at the famous Sahalee Country Club. The team will then host the Stanford Intercollegiate at the end of October. Walker will decide which five will journey to Washington after players complete qualifying rounds this week.
Stackhouse said Watson’s return to the lineup will be an important boost for the team.
“She’ll probably motivate us all to be a little better,” Stackhouse said. “Sally is a big part of the team, and she’s the one that pumps everyone up and lets everybody know that they can play good golf. I’m excited to have her come back.”
Although it is still early, Watson expressed confidence that the team can improve on its 24th-place finish in the NCAA Championships last spring.
“The team’s performance last spring was not what we had hoped for, despite giving 100 percent and doing all we could to raise our games to the next level,” she said. “Golf is a tricky sport in that hard work does not simply translate into better results. In order to achieve different, and better, results this year, I think we each just need to improve our ability to perform under pressure and bring it when it really counts.”