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Season in review: Stanford women’s golf

Before the 2013-14 season began, those who follow women’s collegiate golf and the Stanford women’s team would likely have told you that the Card belonged to sophomore star Mariah Stackhouse. No one would have blamed them, as Stackhouse had a very impressive freshman campaign that included leading her squad to its highest finish in the NCAAs in several years. Indeed, the WGCA and GolfWeek First Team All-American appeared poised to consolidate her position as one of the best female amateurs in the nation.

(SHIRLEY PEFLEY/StanfordPhoto)

Sophomore Lauren Kim (above) emerged as a big threat this past season, along with last year’s freshman standout and classmate Mariah Stackhouse. (SHIRLEY PEFLEY/stanfordphoto.com)

Although Stackhouse had a solid season in which she recorded seven top-10 finishes in her first seven starts, it was classmate Lauren Kim who took over as the team’s on-course leader down the stretch. Kim’s magnificent spring culminated in a third place finish at NCAAs after several brief moments in the lead — the best placing at the NCAA finals for a Stanford player in over two decades.

Kim’s opening and closing events of 2013-14 came at the Tulsa Country Club, with radically different outcomes. Kim and her Stanford teammates began their season in early September at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview, where the Cardinal finished ninth in the 15-team field. While the Card would, unfortunately, replicate that disappointing team placing at the NCAA championships eight and a half months later, Kim’s individual performance could not have been more different.

The Los Altos, California, product shot 8-over 218 in September, posting a promising 2-under 68 in the first round before going 10-over for her last 36 holes to finish T-28th. In May, she got off to the same sort of start — 3-under 67 for the first 18 — but this time was able to maintain her roll. Kim used middle rounds of 71-72 to stay in contention then fired another 67 to close the event, ultimately finishing third. What’s more, she could’ve made things very interesting had she not bogeyed 14 and doubled-bogeyed 16 on her back nine. But, as she communicated in Tulsa, she’s content to not live in the past.

“One of the things coach [Walker] and I always talk about and that I have been working on is just staying in the present more and not thinking about the past too much,” Kim said following her fourth-round. “That really helped and I know that anything can happen. I think being in the morning wave helped too because it helped me put things in perspective and realize you really do not know what will happen.”

The Cardinal followed-up their event in Tulsa with a T-3rd performance at the Windy City Collegiate Classic a few weeks later, where Kim rebounded with a strong 1-under 212 score. While she struggled in the first frame, Kim went 5-under over her last 36 holes to secure the first of seven top-10 individual finishes.

After dominating the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invitational in a fashion that head coach Anne Walker called the most impressive of her tenure, the group headed back to campus to play the first of two home tournaments. The Stanford Intercollegiate hosted an epic battle between two of college golf’s historically great teams and rivalry, USC and UCLA, with the defending national champion Trojans escaping with a narrow victory. The Cardinal turned in a combined score of 3-over 855 to claim fourth behind their Pac-12 conference foes; Stackhouse notched one of the best statistical tournaments of her season, carding a cumulative 4-under 209 to grab her second consecutive top-5 finish.

Stanford wrapped-up its fall slate in Hawaii at The Nanea Pac-12 Preview, but the trip to the Big Island was anything but relaxing for Walker’s squad. Finishing in the middle of the pack was not the result the Cardinal desired, and proved they still had to make up significant ground if they were to compete for the conference title.

“Kind of confirmed what I was thinking as we’re moving into this fall,” Walker said in December of her biggest takeaway from her team’s first five events. “We have the talent; we have the players to be the best team in the country. But we also at the same time are a very young team, so what comes with that is some up and downs. And we had some up and downs. We played the University of Washington, and I think we could’ve beaten any team in the country that week. We smoked them. But then there are other weeks, like our final event at Nanea in Hawaii — we were a little bit tired, a little bit younger. We finished sixth — wasn’t our best.”

The spring season saw a more auspicious start for the Card, who won their first two starts at the Peg Barnard and UC-Irvine Invitationals in February. At the former, Stanford put three golfers in the top-5, including freshman Casey Danielson at T-2nd. Danielson improved her play markedly in the spring events, leading or co-leading her team in four of its eight tournaments. Stackhouse collected the second individual medalist honors of her season at UC-Irvine, going 70-69-73 to best Grace Na of Pepperdine by two strokes.

An unremarkable March had Walker’s group place T-10th and T-2nd at lower level events before moving on to the PING/ASU Invitational in April, the premier tournament of its regular season. But the unit struggled against the nation’s best yet again, and their seventh place performance left the Cardinal as just the fifth-best Pac-12 team in the field. Danielson continued to rise, however, and gave the team hope that it had found a consistent low-scorer behind Kim and Stackhouse.

“The fall season was a bit of an adjustment period for me, just because I was getting used to college and college golf,” Danielson said at the time. “I worked hard heading into the spring season on many parts of my game, and Coach Walker helped to move me in the right direction as I worked on my swing, putting and chipping. This [spring] season, my long irons were much more accurate and my up-and-down percentage was much higher. It was great to see my hard work pay off.”

Despite laboring against their Pac-12 foes in several tournaments leading up to the conference tournament, the Card got off to the excellent start they needed and found themselves in second following the first round of play in the Pac-12 tournament. They remained in contention through 36, slipping to third but still within striking distance with one frame remaining.Though hope seemed lost when none of its players completed the front-nine under par, the quintet stayed steady over the latter half of the round, eventually eking-out a one shot victory over Arizona and USC, taking the program’s first conference crown since 1999.

The subsequent NCAA regional competition was all about survival, and the Card overcame a poor seeding and unlucky site selection to comfortably advance to the NCAA finals. There, Walker hoped her squad could improve on their T-13th finish from the 2013 iteration of the event and perhaps secure a coveted top-10 position. But the team never coalesced in Tulsa and limped to 18th in the 24-school field. And while Kim tried valiantly to put her teammates on her back, the fact that she and Stackhouse were the only two Stanford players in the top-90 highlighted the lack of production from the back-end of the lineup.

Rebuilding that depth is one of Walker’s top priorities, and the incoming recruiting class will more than shore-up the gaps left by departing seniors Marissa Mar and Danielle Fraser. Highlighting the Class of 2018 is Shannon Aubert from France, the 51st ranked female amateur in the world who has a wealth of experience on the American and European junior circuits. An addition like Aubert is sure to bolster the Cardinal’s lineup, which only loses one player from its NCAA squad. With most of its roster returning, Stanford is sure to be in a position once again to challenge for the conference title and perhaps a national championship.

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

About Cameron Miller

Cameron Miller is a sports desk editor for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 245 and is the men's and women's golf writer. 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.