Since beginning its season on Sept. 9 at the Dale McNamara Fall Preview in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Stanford women’s golf team has come full circle. On Saturday, the Cardinal punched another ticket to Tulsa. This time, the trip will have slightly more significance: the chance at a national championship.
The Card ensured their spot in the 24-team field at the NCAA Championships with their fifth-place finish at the East Regional, which ended Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida. It marks the fifth consecutive season in which the program has advanced to the championship round. Last year, the team placed T-13th, a big step forward considering Stanford had recorded finishes of T-19th, 23rd and 24th in the three previous seasons. As in its 2013 regional event, Anne Walker’s squad did not play its absolute best, but the effort was more than enough to move on.
“Regionals is all about survive and advance,” Walker said. “It’s always a crazy week with a lot of teams playing with nothing to lose and a handful of teams playing with everything to lose. That creates a lot of drama and Cinderella stories. We are certainly glad to have clinched a spot.”
Advancing did not come easily, though. In Thursday’s opening round, the Cardinal played like the team that had everything to lose, finishing the day tied for 11th in the 24-squad event, outside of the top-eight position needed to qualify for NCAAs. Despite a strong first 18 holes from sophomore Mariah Stackhouse, whose 4-under 68 put her in a tie for third in the individual standings, Stanford was in a three-way tie for 11th at the end of day one.
Though obviously not the auspicious start the team was hoping for, the field was bunched up, with the eleven squads occupying sixth through 15th separated by just six strokes. Moreover, the Card were only five shots out of fifth and realized that their average opening round did not doom their chances. But they also knew they would need to get more production from senior Marissa Mar and junior Mariko Tumangan — who combined to shoot 13-over on Thursday — at the back end of their lineup.
Both Mar and Tumangan lowered their scores from day one in Friday’s second round, allowing the Cardinal to vault up the team leaderboard on golf’s traditional moving day. Mar, the only senior Walker has used in her traveling lineup, bettered her first-round performance by five strokes, going from 6-over 78 to 1-over 73. This time, it was freshman Casey Danielson’s turn to lead the young but experienced quintet; the Wisconsin native carded a 2-under 70 on the Southwood course, birdieing the 13th, 15th and 16th holes down the stretch.
Stackhouse chugged along with another under-par round, which gave her the outright lead after 36 holes. Her classmate Lauren Kim replicated her Thursday score, turning in another even-par round — another example of the consistency that has defined her career on the Farm thus far. The unit’s five-shot improvement from the day before moved them into the safe zone at sixth place.
Still, Stanford, a paltry four strokes clear of eighth place when competition started on Saturday morning, could not just dial it in. The team avoided a letdown, turning in the sixth-best score of the final round with a 1-over 289 to move up a spot into its final position of fifth. Kim played an impressive last 18 holes, holing an eagle on the 498-yard, par-5 10th hole to begin her day en route to a 3-under 69. However, Stackhouse faltered, shooting 2-over 74 to fall out of the lead and the individual top 10, eventually placing T-11th alongside Kim. But the final round tumble did not dampen the sophomore’s spirits and in fact strengthened her team-centered attitude.
“I’m pleased with my performance individually,” Stackhouse remarked. “I didn’t have the finish I would have liked, but it’s the first time this spring I’ve been in a good position and posted some solid numbers. Regionals is all about the team, and I was just focused on keeping that in mind and playing for us.”
Vanderbilt won the East Regional handily, shooting a combined 24-under to beat second-place South Carolina by 14 shots and Stanford by 26. Jenny Hahn’s individual victory gave the Commodores a sweep of the medal honors. Top-seeded Duke finished tied for third with North Carolina State. Virginia, Tulane and Campbell followed the Cardinal. Though Walker’s squad did not play up to its true potential in Tallahassee, she is proud of the grit and determination it showed on what turned out to be a very tough golf course.
“We got better each day on the course,” said Walker of her unit’s performance on the unfamiliar Bermuda grass. “We were more comfortable on the greens and in the rough by the end of the tournament and it showed. We were the only team besides Pepperdine to compete not from the East region, so the climb was uphill but we made it.”
Stanford will enjoy about 10 days off before it heads to Tulsa for the NCAA Championships, which begin May 20. The next week and a half will not be filled with just relaxation — Walker knows there is still work to be done if the program is to accomplish its most ambitious goal.
“We just have to keep working on 100 yards and in,” Walker said. “I saw a lot of missed opportunities from that range and in Tulsa if we want to compete, we have to make those. Tulsa [Country Club] is hard. Ups-and-downs will be imperative.”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.