Northwestern captures top seed in NCAA Women's match play

Writing from Sugar Grove, Illinois

Monday, May 22, 2017


If you call this year’s NCAA golf carnival the bizarro world version of the game, you wouldn’t be far wrong.

In the three days of NCAA Women’s Championship stroke play competition, the feature moments have included two players penalized for taking a cart to visit a bathroom, two players penalized for giving advice to another member of her team, tee shots hit off an artificial turf mat on one hole, and one day rained out completely even though the course was playable for most of the day.

Welcome to Rich Harvest Farms, where the unusual is expected and the impossible is likely. Throw college golfers into the mix and wild and wacky things take place.

Including right at the top, where Northwestern, which missed the eight-team match play competition by a stroke last year, is the top seed this time around, and will line up with Kent State, with whom they’ve been paired all week, at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday. The Wildcats won the stroke-play team competition – no trophy, no title, just a pat on the head and an “Atta girl” – by eight strokes on Monday, outdistancing Stanford by finishing at 33-over 897.

Hannah Kim’s 1-over 73, highlighted by four birdies and an eagle, led the way. She bounced back from a double-bogey on the par-4 17th with a birdie at the last, a finish that was duplicated by teammates Janet Mao and Sarah Cho.

That mental attitude to stay the course has been the Wildcats’ hallmark this week.

“This is a tremendous achievement by our team and our program,” Northwestern coach Emily Fletcher said. “This is pretty special, amazing. I thought, returning all five players, we had the best lineup, one to five, all year. We finally got all five players going at the same time, and that’s the difference, really.”

“We fell short in a lot of our tournaments this year, especially Big Ten,” Kim said, referencing Michigan State’s 10-stroke final day rally to grab a share of the conference crown with Northwestern. “So we told ourselves we’ve got nothing to lose. This is kind of the time to shine. We can only control what we do.”

Her eagle 3 on the 459-yard second hole was an eye-opener.

“It was not something I was expecting,” Kim said. “But it kick-started my round. It kind of kept me going. It was really tough. I just tried to play consistent, one shot at a time.”

Kim’s 73 was the best Wildcat round of the day and placed her in a tie for 17th at 10-over 226, but Janet Mao (74; 224) led Northwestern with a solo 13th. Kacie Komoto (75; 225) tied for 14th, with Sarah Cho (76) and Stephanie Lau (80) tied for 24th at 13-over 229.

The individual title went to Arizona State senior Monica Vaughn. Finishing on the front nine, she played her last four holes in 2-under to score 1-under 71 for a total of 1-over 217, edging sophomore Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest and Leona McGuire of Duke, the world’s No. 1 amateur, by a stroke.

“I had no idea,” Vaughn said of her status down the stretch. “My team did a good job of not telling me. Not until I walked off the green did I know. Then they said 'You won!' and then came the water, on a 55-degree day.”

Vaughn was tremendous, but the title should have been Kupcho’s, who had won the NCAA regional in Athens, Ga. McGuire had scored her 70 in the relative calm of the morning. Kupcho, after going out in 2-under 34 to get to 2-under for the championship, bogeyed the par-4 14th and triple-bogeyed the par-4 17th, hitting her approach shot into the water. She went from two strokes ahead to a stroke behind on the hole.

“I thought I hit it perfect,” Kupcho said. “I got a little bold. The wind had died down a little bit.”

The ball hit the bank in front of the green and caromed back into the water. She three-putted after reaching the green with her fourth shot.

Meanwhile, Vaughn was 1-over with four holes to play, but birdies on the sixth and seventh holes moved her to 1-under moments before Kupcho’s penultimate hole gaffe, and she parred the final two holes of the front nine. The ninth green is about a quarter-mile from the 18th green, but the cheers of her teammates at the ninth could be heard across the prairie when the winning putt dropped.

Kupcho was near tears for a bit, but noted she has a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier later in the week.

“I’ll think about it until I’m on the first tee,” Kupcho said.

The 4-under 68 of Michigan’s Elodie Van Dievoet was the best round of the day, and of the stroke-play portion of the championship.

The day’s oddity was the pair of two-stroke penalties handed Miami’s Renete Grimstad and Dewi Weber for giving advice to a teammate, verboten in the Rules of Golf. That came on top of the two-stroke penalties to Northwestern’s Cho and Kent State’s Kelly Nielsen for using a cart to ride back and forth from a bathroom during Sunday’s second round.




Tuesday morning’s quarterfinal matchups:

Match 1: No. 1 Northwestern vs. No. 8 Kent State; 7:50 a.m.: Sarah Cho (NU) vs. Kelly Nielsen; 8 a.m.: Kacie Komoto (NU) vs. Michaela Finn; 8:10 a.m.: Hannah Kim (NU) vs. Wad Phaewchimplee; 8:20 a.m.: Janet Mao (NU) vs. Karoline Stormo; 8:30 a.m.: Stephanie Lau (NU) vs. Pimnipa Panthong.

Match 2: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Southern California

Match 3: No. 3 Arizona State vs. No. 6 Florida

Match 4: No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 7 Baylor


The winners meet in the semifinals beginning at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday’s championship match starts at 2:10 p.m.

Tim Cronin

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