Coming off what was arguably its best performance of the season at the PING/ASU Invitational, the Stanford women’s golf team begins play today in Valencia, Calif., for the Pac-12 Championships and the team appears primed for a postseason run.
In Tempe, Ariz., on the Karsten Golf Course, the Stanford women had what Head Coach Anne Walker called a “terrific performance.” The Cardinal defeated seven conference opponents, including top-ranked USC, while tying for third with then-No. 7 Arizona State.
“We know that we have a strong enough team to win this week,” Walker said, “but we also know that we play in the strongest conference in women’s golf, with six teams ranked 11th or higher… The team that wins will have to play extremely well.”
Not only should the team be in the hunt, freshman Mariah Stackhouse should be in contention for the individual title. This freshman sensation has run her string of top-10 individual finishes to seven, and will be looking to record her 100th career victory and her third collegiate title. Despite describing herself as a “risk taker,” Stackhouse knows the course in Valencia will require her to be a bit more conservative than usual.
“I know Valencia is a challenging course,” Stackhouse said. “I think this course is different [from Karsten] in that it requires a lot of strategy. When I go into tournaments, my goal is to make as many birdies as I can, and that’s still going to be my aim. For this tournament, though, I’m going to have to change my mindset to think more strategically. I’ll keep my aggressive mindset but on certain holes I’ll need to think smarter and focus on my tendencies.”
However talented Stackhouse may be, Stanford’s depth, just as it was at PING, will be key to its placing — especially crucial at Pac-12s, where five scores are counted each day instead of the usual four. This means freshman Lauren Kim, senior Sally Watson and sophomore Mariko Tumangan will need solid performances in order to ensure Stanford doesn’t become a one-player show.
Watson, the only senior who has seen regular tournament play this season, has heated up at just the right time. After tying for second at the Edean Ihlanfeldt tournament in October, she didn’t post another top-15 individual finish until her victory at the Sonoma State Invitational in early April. She finished 16th at PING, and her two-under-par performance was the Scotland native’s best cumulative score of the season.
“I think in order to be successful on the Valencia Course we will need to drive the ball well and like in any championship, we will need to putt well, but all in all I think this course plays to our strengths as you have to plan your way around the course and play smart,” Watson said. “I don’t feel any extra pressure being a senior, I am just looking forward to competing as always and hoping that we all perform our best.”
Kim is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Watson, as this is her first collegiate postseason event. Stanford’s most consistent golfer other than Stackhouse, the freshman has fully embraced Walker’s “see-it-to-achieve-it” mantra, and despite her youth, carries the swagger of a tested veteran.
“We are very confident after our finish at ASU,” Kim said. “We showed ourselves that we can compete with any team in the country. I do believe we can come home with a win, but we’re staying in the present and not getting too far ahead of ourselves.”
This team hopes it is the one that can break the long dry spell for Stanford’s women’s golf program. Since winning for the only time in 1999, Stanford’s average finish at the conference tournament is sixth. The Cardinal’s best performance since 2002 is a fifth-place finish in 2011.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 “at” stanford.edu.