After a couple of season-saving rounds to wrap-up the NCAA West Regional, the No. 10 Stanford women’s golf team begins play today at its fourth consecutive NCAA Championships at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
Although qualifying for the dance hasn’t been an issue for the Cardinal, it has struggled once advancing, recording finishes of a tie for 19th in 2010, 23rd in 2011 and 24th last year in the 24-team field.
Making her anticipated NCAA Championships debut is highly touted freshman Mariah Stackhouse. Ranked No. 3 among collegiate golfers, this will be a huge homecoming for Stackhouse, who is a native of Riverdale, Ga., a 90-minute drive from the course.
Not only is Stackhouse familiar with the course, but she is also bound to see plenty of familiar faces in her gallery, as she expects family and many of her local friends and supporters to make the trip. Head coach Anne Walker brushed off the notion that all those extra eyes on her star player could bring a myriad of distractions to an already formidable mental challenge.
“Mariah will be fine,” Walker said. “She thrives under pressure and enjoys having the spotlight on her. I think this will be a memory that she will always treasure, playing the NCAA Championship in front of a home crowd.”
While Stackhouse struggled a bit on her home course at the West Regional, sophomore Mariko Tumangan experienced a continued resurgence.
After her second top-15 individual finish of the year at the Pac-12 Championships, Tumangan recorded her second top-10 performance of the year at the regional and her first since tying for second at the Cal Classic back in February. Walker praised Tumangan’s development this season, calling her a “big-time player.”
Tumangan has credited a change in mindset as the key to her turnaround.
“My play at some of the tournaments this year was inconsistent and it was definitely disappointing,” Tumangan said. “However, I used the negatives to drive me to work harder and practice more. I have been working on making things simpler in my mind and I am still continuing to work on it. If I keep focusing on improving myself every day, the outcome will turn out.”
Not only is Walker excited about the play of Tumangan, she believes freshman Lauren Kim is hugely underrated going into the Championships. Kim has been very steady in the spring campaign. Usually the team’s second or third lowest scorer, Kim has also recorded two top-10 finishes.
Walker believes it won’t be long until Kim finds herself at the top of the leaderboard.
“Lauren Kim hasn’t received a lot of attention this season but she has quietly been logging a strong freshman season,” Walker said. “Lauren’s consistency has been invaluable for our team’s success, and I believe she is very close to capturing her first collegiate victory.”
Rounding out Stanford’s lineup will be senior Sally Watson and junior Danielle Frasier.
Watson, a seasoned veteran with three previous NCAA Championships appearances and a ninth-place finish her freshman year, will be making the final start of her collegiate career.
For Frasier, this postseason has been one of firsts — in the past month she has made her first career Pac-12 Tournament and regional starts and now will make her inaugural foray into the NCAA Championships.
In order to be successful on the UGA course, Walker believes her team will need to be on point with its play off the tees, as the layout will be significantly longer than most in-season tournaments.
“Driving the ball is one of our strengths,” Walker said. “Mariah, Mariko and Sally are all very long hitters off of the tee, and Danielle and Lauren are extremely accurate. We miss very few fairways as a team and I think this will be to our advantage this week.”
While the field will be the strongest the Cardinal has faced all year, it will feature plenty of familiar opponents, as a total of six Pac-12 teams will make the trek to Georgia. Only the SEC has more teams in the national championship with seven.
The Stanford women will tee off today at the first hole in the morning wave in the only four-round tournament the team has faced all season.
“It will no doubt be an exhausting week, but I think we have prepared well and are ready,” Kim said. “[The four-round event] has not really changed anything besides pre-accepting that we will need to fight hard through fatigue. I am confident our work in the gym and on the course will pay off.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.