The drought is finally over. The streak has, at long last, ended. The elusive has now become the reality. Today, the Pac-12 Men’s and Women’s Golf Championship trophies reside where they haven’t been for some 20 years: Stanford University.
After successfully weathering a wild final round push by Washington, the Cardinal men’s golf team captured its first conference title since 1994, defeating the second-place Washington Huskies by 15 strokes. Junior Patrick Rodgers made it a sweep for Stanford, as he picked up the first and only individual Pac-12 crown of his storied collegiate career. The outgoing junior entered Sunday’s fourth round with a five-shot lead, seeing the advantage shrink a tad over the final 18 holes but ultimately holding on to best UW’s Cheng-Tsung Pan, who finished two strokes back of the two-time First Team All-American.
Despite the Huskies’ impressive final-round performance, the Card’s lead was never seriously in doubt. Head coach Conrad Ray’s sextet led from the gun and took all of the drama out of the event by Saturday’s end. By then, Stanford had built a 21-shot cushion over Cal, an advantage due in large part to Rodgers’ magnificent Friday afternoon second round. The former Pac-12 Freshman of the Year scorched The Gallery at Dove Mountain course, firing a tournament-low 7-under 65, an effort aided by three eagles over a seven-hole stretch on his back nine.
But with the Pac-12 employing a play six-count five format, the Cardinal needed much more than the drives, chips and putts of just one player. Unlike last season’s conference event at which Stanford was able to put just two golfers in the individual top 20, the squad placed five in the top 20 this year. After Rodgers came senior Cameron Wilson in third, recording his highest career finish in four starts at the Pac-12 championships. Entering Sunday’s round at even-par with rounds of 72-71-73 under his belt, Wilson turned up the heat in the final 18, holing five birdies en route to a 4-under 68 score that moved him from T-4th into the top three.
Freshman Maverick McNealy’s T-9th position gave the Card three in the individual top-10 — no other team in the field had more than two. The Bay Area native, who has been inconsistent at times throughout his freshman year, showed up in a big way on Sunday with a four-birdie, two-bogey 2-under 70 to vault from T-17th into the top-10. Classmate Viraat Badhwar and sophomore David Boote rounded out Stanford’s top-20 performers, both finishing T-16th in the 72-man tournament.
Still, the day, and indeed the weekend, belonged to Rodgers, as he recorded his 10th collegiate win, four of which have come during this spring season. He now is just one victory shy of tying the program record, held by Tiger Woods.
Initially, it seemed, one drought would end and another would be prolonged. As late as the final hole at the Pac-12 Women’s Golf Championships, it appeared the Stanford women would finish a close second to Arizona and barely miss out on the team’s first conference win since 1999. Apparently, the women thought the party that ensued in Tucson, Arizona, after their male counterparts’ victory just wasn’t enough, and threw one of their own in Corvallis, Oregon, a short time later to celebrate a comeback victory for the ages.
At the outset, it looked as if this could be the iteration that ended the winless streak. Friday’s opening round — marred by a 90-minute delay due to heavy rain and hail — saw junior Mariko Tumangan bust out of her spring slump with a 5-under 67 on the fabled Trysting Tree course. A punch like that was exactly what the Cardinal needed: a solid fourth score to support the relatively consistent efforts of sophomores Mariah Stackhouse and Lauren Kim and freshman Casey Danielson. And it showed in the results: Head coach Anne Walker’s squad overcame the inclement weather to sit in second, just one shot back of national title contender UCLA. On top of that, the juggernaut that is USC had an uncharacteristically off day and found itself further back in the pack.
Thus, everything appeared to be coalescing for the Card at exactly the right time: Tumangan was turning her play around — a necessary development if Stanford was to have any chance of winning — and the Trojans were faltering. Though much golf was left to be played, everything seemed to portend a positive ending for the quintet.
Saturday was a different story, however. The windy and rainy conditions continued as the Cardinal shot five strokes worse than the day before, posting a 3-over 291 cumulative score to drop to third. Tumangan’s resurgence was short lived, as she followed-up her 67 with a 9-over 81 in the second round. Stackhouse too wasn’t able to replicate her Friday performance, coming in at 3-over 75 on moving day. Even Kim’s ace on the par-3, 154-yard 13th hole wasn’t enough to lift the team’s score, which left it four back of UCLA and three behind Arizona, with USC looming in fourth.
By mid-round Sunday, Stanford was still in the mix at the top but there was an overwhelming feeling of a moral victory coming on: that the Card would battle tough but it simply wouldn’t be enough to overcome the stacked Bruins and Trojans squads. No shame in losing to two of the best NCAA golf teams of all time. Plus, the Cardinal would return 80 percent of their lineup to next year’s event — this just wasn’t their time, yet.
This unit decided that “yet” couldn’t wait until next year or the season after that — the moment to strike was now, and strike they did. In a wild sequence of events, Arizona’s Lindsey Weaver and Southern Cal’s Annie Park shot a combined 3-over on holes 15-18, while their group-mate Stackhouse stayed bogey-free during that stretch. That, coupled with UCLA’s 10-over 288 team score, opened a door that Stanford barely eked through, breaking through the chains of history and hardship to cross the threshold of victory.
Both men’s and women’s teams will find out their NCAA Regional assignments this week, with the women beginning play on May 8 followed by the men a week later.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.