In spite of a final round tumble down the leaderboard, the No. 10 Stanford women’s golf team finished in a tie for 13th at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga. — the squad’s highest finish at the national tournament since placing fifth in 2007.
“We feel great about this year,” head coach Anne Walker said. “We accomplished many great things: first time we won three victories in the same season since the ’80s, highest ranking since 2007, NCAA Individual Scoring record, best finish at Conference since 2001 and many more firsts. We don’t ever want to catch ourselves comparing to other years — we only want to know we gave it our best and that we did.”
Like their male counterparts at the NCAA Columbus Regional, the Stanford women got out to a relatively good start in Athens. A first round 2-over 290 put the team in seventh place, with three players in the top 20: sophomore Mariko Tumangan and freshman Lauren Kim in a tie for sixth at 1-under 71, with freshman Mariah Stackhouse — making a highly anticipated return to her home state — coming in one stroke back of that duo at even-par 72.
The Card quintet followed up the opener with its best round of the tournament, a 2-under 288 performance to put itself in a tie for fifth with No. 7 Purdue, three shots out of third but well behind leader and eventual national champion No. 1 USC.
“We had four strong contributors on the second day,” Walker said. “Every other day of the event, we had at least two players struggling to break 75, which made it tough to shoot a low team number.”
This strong play over the first 36 holes was very much a departure from the Stanford teams who have competed in the last three national championships: None of those groups ever climbed higher than 19th place in the team competition, and last year’s squad was in 24th — last place — for the entirety of the tournament.
However, the team’s excellent initial burst slowly and then rapidly fizzled out in eerily similar fashion to the Stanford men’s drastic drop-off that ended their season.
Thursday’s third round saw Stanford shoot a combined 13-over 301, tied for the fifth-highest score of the day. None of the Cardinal golfers broke par as the team slipped into seventh place, three strokes behind Pac-12 foe No. 13 Arizona State.
Like she had in the first round, Kim led the team on the day, posting a 1-over 73, while Stackhouse, after a 4-under 68 second round, cooled off with a 2-over 74.
In Friday’s final round, the Card’s best score was a 7-over 79 courtesy of senior Sally Watson — a telling statistic in what was a very uncharacteristic day for Stanford. The team recorded a 33-over 321, the fourth highest of the round, with all five players recording at least four bogeys and one double bogey and combining for only four birdies as a team.
“The wind was blowing very hard, and, by the time we teed off, the conditions were firm and dry with tucked pin placements,” Walker said of the final round conditions. “It was an extremely difficult challenge — however, we still played worse than the field, and I attribute that to emotional exhaustion. The team wanted a top-10 finish badly, and when we got off to such a difficult start, it was hard for each player to maintain their composure. I think there were a lot of learning experiences on the course yesterday that will only make us better going forward.”
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful spring season, which saw the Cardinal win its first three tournaments and tie for third and fourth at the very competitive PING ASU Invitational and Pac-12 Championships, respectively.
The program has also witnessed Stackhouse’s rapid rise to stardom, though she carded a season-high round of 9-over 81 to cap her first national championship. Stackhouse ended up tied for 29th, Kim’s 8-over 80 left her tied for 42nd and Watson finished tied for 73rd in the 126-woman field.
“From this tournament,” Stackhouse said, “I learned that no matter how comfortable I am with my game, the final round of a major championship is going to be emotional, and I have to work that much harder to stay within myself and play smart golf.”
No. 1 USC thoroughly dominated the tournament, turning in a combined 19-under score and defeating second place No. 3 Duke by 21 strokes. The Trojans placed all five of their golfers in the top 20, led by individual champion Annie Park (-10), who bested Duke’s Lindy Duncan by six shots.
Though Stanford will lose the tried and tested veteran Watson, it will bring a strong Class of 2017 that should compete for the opening spot in the starting lineup. Casey Danielson, the third-ranked U.S. junior girls golfer, and Jisoo Keel, a top Canadian junior, both will matriculate to Stanford in the fall.
And with Stackhouse, the No. 3 golfer in the nation as just a freshman, returning, anything could happen.
“I won’t dwell on the poor finish I had,” Stackhouse said. “It’s hard to end a season that way, but I’ll try to focus on what was a great freshman year. As a team, we had a really solid season. I can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for us starting next year.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.