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Card looks to defend home course against West Regional field

Senior Sally Watson (above) has placed in the top 10 individually at two NCAA regionals in her career, and another such performance at Stanford Golf Course this week would go a long way to propelling the Cardinal past the opening round. (MICHAEL BURNS/isiphotos.com)

The No. 11 Stanford women’s golf team will look to qualify for its fourth consecutive NCAA Championships when it begins play at the NCAA West Regional on its home course today.

Senior Sally Watson (above) has placed in the top 10 individually at two NCAA regionals in her career, and another such performance at Stanford Golf Course this week would go a long way to propelling the Cardinal past the opening round. (MICHAEL BURNS/isiphotos.com)
Senior Sally Watson (above) has placed in the top 10 individually at two NCAA regionals in her career, and another such performance at Stanford Golf Course this week would go a long way to propelling the Cardinal past the opening round. (MICHAEL BURNS/isiphotos.com)

The West Regional will be extremely competitive. The 24-team field features four top-10 teams, including familiar foes No. 1 USC and No. 5 Arizona in addition to No. 8 Vanderbilt and No. 9 Purdue. Five of the nation’s top 15 individuals will square off, attempting to book a trip to the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga. with a top-eight team finish.

“For us to compete this week, all five players will have to contribute at a high level,” said head coach Anne Walker. “We can’t rely on our ‘top’ players. We will need a full team effort to qualify for the National Championship. The field is very strong this week…we can compete with all of these teams and hope to do so.”

No doubt the Cardinal will need its 2-3-4-5 players to play well in order to advance, but if the team wants to compete for a championship, freshman Mariah Stackhouse will have to be firing on all cylinders. The superstar-to-be has risen to No. 3 in the GolfWeek/Sagarin individual rankings and is coming off a tie for third place at her first Pac-12 Championships. This will be her first competitive round at the Stanford Golf Course since her record-setting performance at the Peg Barnard Invitational in February, when Stackhouse fired a mind-boggling 61 on the tournament’s final day.

On the individual front, Stackhouse will grapple with No. 1 Annie Park and No. 4 Sophia Popov of USC — the last two Pac-12 individual champions — in addition to No. 7 Grace Na of Pepperdine and No. 14 Hayley Davis of Baylor. Na’s 9-under-par single-round performance at the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown in 2011 is tied for the second-lowest collegiate round of all time, rivaled only by Stackhouse’s 10-under this year.

“I feel very prepared for this tournament,” Stackhouse said. “Over the last few days I’ve worked a lot on the accuracy of my iron shots, and they’ve been looking good…That was a great round earlier this year, but this is a new tournament and I’ll leave thoughts of the Peg Barnard out of my head as we start Regionals tomorrow.”

Fellow freshman Lauren Kim also comes into Regionals having played well on her home course back in February. While she tied for fifth at the Peg Barnard with an even-par two-round 142, Kim knows that she and her teammates will face a much tougher task this time around.

“Because the setup of the course is left to the NCAA to decide, it will play much longer and more difficult than the Peg Barnard did in February,” Kim said. “The rough will be long and thick and the green’s a bit faster…We play the course at least twice every week and we all know it so well. We are very comfortable on our course and I think that comfort will play to our advantage.”

Walker echoed those sentiments, but the coach who has preached a “see-it-to-achieve-it” mentality offered an important caveat.

“There are more advantages than disadvantages of playing at home,” Walker commented. “We know the course, we have the home crowd support and we are comfortable in the environment. The disadvantage is that there are quite a few distractions for our players versus other teams. However, I feel confident that our team will make the most of this opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd.”

While Stackhouse and Kim each are just two tournaments into what, in all likelihood, will be long and successful postseason careers, this event may be Sally Watson’s last. The senior from Scotland is seeking her third top-10 regional finish after tying for seventh and placing fourth at the West Regionals her freshman and junior years, respectively. Despite the air of finality, Watson plans on keeping the same mindset that has made her successful for the last four years.

“As a senior, my biggest advantage is just knowing what it feels like to play Regionals — and at home, since we hosted my freshman year — but other than that, everything is the same,” Watson said. “That is something coach [Walker] has really stressed these past few weeks. Just keep doing everything the same: having fun and fighting until the end.”

This Stanford team will be looking to improve upon its recent track record of qualifying for the NCAA Championships but faltering thereafter. In the past three years, the Cardinal women have recorded an average regional finish of sixth, but a 22nd-place average in the 24-team NCAA Championship field.

The NCAA West Regional kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 “at” stanford.edu.

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