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Women’s golf ready to return to Tulsa for NCAA Championships

The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma isn’t exactly what one would call a “hopping destination.” Sure, there are a couple of universities, a still-booming oil industry and an NBA Development League squad, but beyond that, Tulsa is just another overlooked and unknown dot on the American prairie sprawl. That will all change this week, as the collegiate golf world turns its gaze to northwestern Oklahoma, watching and waiting for the Tulsa Country Club to crown a champion. This is the 2014 NCAA Women’s Golf Championships, and Tulsa will have its fifteen minutes — give or take a couple days — of fame.

(NICK SALAZAR/The Stanford Daily)

Sophomore Mariah Stackhouse (above) will look to lead the Cardinal through a loaded field at the NCAA Championships to a result better than the T-13th of last season. (NICK SALAZAR/The Stanford Daily)

The Stanford women’s golf team certainly hopes its time in the spotlight will be longer than that. A win would be historic for the Cardinal, which will compete for the program’s first national title against a field that may be the tournament’s most competitive ever.

“We are thrilled to be in the finals,” remarked head coach Anne Walker. “Now that we are here, we would love to walk away with a top-10 [finish] but we are not focused on that. Our focus is solely on the process and we will see where that puts us on Friday afternoon.”

However, if the Card’s quintet is to accomplish its ultimate goal in Tulsa, it must first reach back into the memory banks and recall the lessons from its season-opening event: the Dale McNamara Fall Preview.

Held at the Tulsa Country Club — it was called a “preview” for a reason — the September tournament was one of Stanford’s poorest performances in a season that has otherwise been nothing short of incredible. The team, composed of the same five players that will take the course today, limped to a ninth-place finish at the 15-school event, 19 strokes back from defending national champions USC. In perspective, ninth might not have been all that bad for the Cardinal; all eight squads in front of them are currently ranked in Golfstat’s top 11. There is certainly no shame in losing to good teams, but if Walker’s group wants to significantly improve on its T-13th position at last year’s NCAA Championships, it will have to find a way to navigate the loaded field.

In order to be more successful this time around, Stanford must improve its scoring average on the course’s 12 par-4 holes. Sophomore Mariah Stackhouse was the Card’s only golfer to shoot below par on the 36 par-4s she faced over the 54-hole tournament; her teammates averaged more than a quarter-stroke above par on their par-4s. On the season, sophomore Lauren Kim, freshman Casey Danielson and junior Mariko Tumangan are all averaging over-par scores on par-4s — a trend that will have to be reversed if the Card will hope for a high finish.

Because Tulsa Country Club has a medium length at 6194 yards, Stanford will have to be on top its intermediate and short game. How well the Cardinal can execute their shots from 100 yards and closer will have a major impact on their scoring, as will their non-sand up-and-down completion percentage. Kim and Stackhouse are among the best collegiate golfers in that category, converting non-sand up-and-downs at rates of 73.2 and 69.6 percent, respectively.

“We are not going to change our strategy tee to green very much [from the Fall Preview],” said Walker of her team’s on-course approach. “There are a couple of holes playing longer, so those will require different approach. But otherwise, same mentality but more [success] on the up-and-downs. In the fall, we were 30 percent on up-and-downs, and we know that we have be around 60 percent to compete.”

To compete, the Card will need strong participation from the entire lineup, one through five. At this point in the season, both frontrunners and depth are needed to support championship aspirations; Stanford has shown it has both, but the two aspects often haven’t coincided. Nonetheless, Walker isn’t so much concerned with her lineup’s consistency as she is with putting together and sticking to a winning game plan.

“Golf is very much a day-to-day, week-to-week game,” she said. “There are so many elements involved that consistency alone is difficult to achieve. So, I don’t have any expectations for my players, but we just put together the best strategy we can and go from there.”

Whether that means a national championship or not is still unknown, but after Stanford’s heroics at the Pac-12 Championships, do not put anything past this team. If all five golfers play up to their averages this season, the Card will have an excellent chance of improving on its T-13th finish from last year’s championships. Anything more will require the squad to go above and beyond, but that’s something they’ve already proven is possible.

Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Cameron Miller

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 246 and is the men's and women's golf writer. He also writes on NCAA-related matters. Cameron is also a Stanford student-athlete, competing on the cross country and track and field teams. He is originally from Bakersfield, California, but spends most of his time away from the Farm on the state's Central Coast. Contact him at cmiller6@stanford.edu.
  • TB

    Well “Standford Daily” Tulsa is not in Northwestern Oklahoma it is in Northeastern Oklahoma. And the great city of Tulsa is not as dreadful as you make it seem.