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Women’s golf overcomes slow start to advance to NCAA Championship

Freshman Lauren Kim (above) (DON FERIA/StanfordPhoto.com)

Despite a dismal first round performance, the No. 10 Stanford women’s golf team bounced back nicely over the final two days of the NCAA West Regional to finish fifth on its home course. The top-eight finish at the regional advances the Cardinal to next week’s NCAA Championship in Athens, Ga.

Thursday’s first round saw Stanford post a 17-over 301, putting itself in an uncomfortable 4-way tie for 12th. Star freshman Mariah Stackhouse made an uncharacteristic six bogeys in the first round, while the rest of her teammates combined for six double-bogeys. The story of the end of a great season seemed to write itself: A young team—with only two out of five players having collegiate postseason experience—ran out of gas and was ready to fold.

“We were obviously disappointed in our first round because our goal this week was to win,” said head coach Anne Walker. “After shooting plus-17, we knew that to win we had to do something special in the final two rounds.”

Freshman Lauren Kim (above) (DON FERIA/StanfordPhoto.com)
Freshman Lauren Kim (above) helped lead a comeback charge in Friday’s second round as the Cardinal earned a spot in next week’s NCAA Championship.  (DON FERIA/StanfordPhoto.com)

That it did. The Stanford women improved their play dramatically in the second round, recording the lowest team score of the day with an even-par 284. Stackhouse lowered her score six strokes from the previous day, shooting a 2-under-par 69.

Stackhouse could have finished even better; the freshman was sitting at 5-under for the round after back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th, but went 3-over in her final three holes.

“Honestly, nobody on the team seemed to be downcast after Thursday’s rough performance,” Stackhouse said. “I think we all expected to go out Friday and put up much better numbers and jump back into the top eight. I was very proud of the way we handled that initial setback and our positive attitudes moving forward.”

Fellow freshman Lauren Kim also played much better in second round, going from a 3-over 74 to an even-par 71. Though Kim knew the course would play tougher than it had during the Peg Barnard Invitational in February, the home course advantage played in the team’s favor.

“We have played that course so many times that it really didn’t play that [differently] during Regionals,” commented Kim. “The pins were tougher, which I think is what contributed to the higher scores, but other than that the course was pretty similar to how we have been playing it in practice.”

Both Kim and Walker noted that the team was more comfortable starting in the afternoon wave—as it did on Friday—since that is usually the time of day the team practices on the course.

Another reason for Stanford’s vault into the top eight on Friday was the solid play of sophomore Mariko Tumangan. Tumangan followed her opening day 3-over 74 with a second round 1-under performance that included three birdies and two bogeys. That put her in a tie for 12th in the individual race with Stackhouse and three others at 2-over-par.

“Mariko had a terrific tournament,” Walker said. “We have been working hard on Mariko’s confidence all year and it is beginning to pay off.  It is no surprise to me that we have seen Mariko rise to the top at the end of the season. She is a big-time player.”

Senior Sally Watson bounced back from her worst competitive round ever at the Stanford Golf Course on Thursday to shoot 3-over 74 on Friday.

Saturday’s third and final round saw the Cardinal hold steady and retain its fifth place position. Individually, Tumangan and Watson tied for the team low at 1-over-par, while Stackhouse, Kim and junior Danielle Frasier all concluded their tournaments with 2-over-par final rounds.

For the second year in a row, Tumangan ended up being her team’s lowest scorer at the Regionals, finishing in a four-way tie for 10th at 3-over-par. Stackhouse was one stroke behind her in a tie for 14th, and Kim one off Stackhouse in a tie for 18th.

The overall team race saw No. 1 USC (+7) come from behind to knock off No. 7 Purdue (+8), as the Trojans overcame a two-stroke deficit heading into the final round. No. 8 Vanderbilt (+17) placed a distant third, and tournament surprise No. 33 South Carolina (+22) was fourth, one stroke in front of Stanford.

The other NCAA Tournament qualifiers out of the West Region were Pac-12 teams No. 9 Arizona and No. 38 Oregon, which finished in a tie for sixth, and local squad San Jose State.

The individual race was quite a show on Saturday, as Purdue’s Paula Reto fired a 5-under 66 to tie tournament frontrunner and NCAA No.1 Annie Park of USC at 7-under. Both golfers were credited with a victory.

Also on Saturday, Park’s teammate Kyung Kim scorched the course with an 8-under 63, recording a birdie on five of her final seven holes to move into a tie for third place.

This will be the fourth consecutive NCAA Championship appearance for Stanford. In the three previous years, the team has finished 19th, 23rd and 24th, respectively, in the 24-team field. In order to avoid placing in the bottom-half of the field, Walker believes that her team has to focus on their driving.

“We have to work on our ball striking,” Walker said of the team. “The National Championship course is very long, over 200 yards longer than the average in-season course. For us to play well, we have to be striking the ball well.”

For Stackhouse, the trip will be a homecoming and an opportunity to play in front of her family and many in-state supporters. The No. 3 ranked golfer in the country knows the UGA course well, having played the local circuit many times.

The 2013 NCAA Championship begins May 21 at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens.

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

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