If you missed Golf Channel’s excellent coverage of the NCAA Women’s Championship finals, then hopefully you can catch the replay, but that still won’t be the same, especially since you’ll know the outcome. So, let me rephrase. If you didn’t watch the Washington Huskies duel the Stanford Cardinals on Wednesday evening at Eugene Country Club, then you should be ashamed of yourself as a golf fan.
The action was as thrilling as it gets, with the girls hitting clutch, pressure-packed shots down the stretch. Two matches went into overtime, with Washington needing to win one of them for the title and Stanford needing to claim victory in both to successfully defend. Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse defeated Washington’s hero in the semifinals Sarah Rhee, a freshman from Seattle, in 20 holes. Then Julianne Alvarez, a freshman from New Zealand, won on the second extra hole to clinch the deciding point in a 3-2 victory over Stanford for Washington’s first national championship.
It looked like the Huskies had the title in the bag for a moment, but then Alvarez three-putted for bogey on the 18th to cause the match to go into overtime. But credit to her opponent Stanford’s Lauren Kim, who won the last three holes to keep Stanford’s hopes of back-to-back national titles alive.
“Just keep having fun,” said Huskies head coach Mary Lou Mulflur. “That is all I kept saying to Julianne. When you feel like you were going to throw up, I kept telling her, ‘Hey, let’s have some fun.’”
Alvarez was able to seek redemption, though, putting on a short-game clinic. On the first extra hole, she managed to get up-and-down from 50 yards short of the green. Then, the freshman’s pitch from just short of the 18th green stopped within tap-in range. All eyes were now on Kim, who had a tough chip from the rough left of the green and left herself with a 15-footer to extend the match. (I seriously was trying to go back to my college days and imagine that pressure she was under and I couldn’t.) Kim gave the putt a good run, but it burned the edge and missed.
“When you are in that situation, and this was for your team, you are not going to give up without a fight,” said Alvarez. “So I told myself to stay steady, focused and patient. This is just one shot, then the next shot. That’s all you have to worry about.”
Washington senior Ying Luo was playing in the third match against Stanford’s Casey Danielson, who hadn’t lost a match in the NCAA Championship in the last two years. Heading into the 18th green, Luo was 1-up, but it looked like the match was destined to go into extra holes. Luo’s tee shot had ended up in thick rough and she couldn’t advance it all the way to the green, leaving herself with a pitch from about 45 yards.
What happened in the moments after was pure magic and put the momentum in Washington’s hands — it was the type of shot you dream of hitting in the National Championship.
Luo holed out for birdie to close out her match and put a second point on the board for Washington.
“When I was standing behind the shot I was imagining it going in,” said Luo. “I was thinking about my teammate Sarah, she did that yesterday, and I said, ‘I’m going to do that too.”
A big congrats to the Washington Huskies, especially head coach Mary Lou Mulflur, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since I was 13 (since, you know, I grew up in the Seattle area). She also recruited me for the team when I was in high school and I’ll never forget how she asked Paige Mackenzie, who had already committed to U-Dub, to make the four-hour trip from her hometown to campus to be there for my recruiting trip since she knew Paige and I were good friends. Anyway, I’m just beyond happy for Mary Lou. She’s always known how to get the most out of her players and is just a wonderful person who I admire greatly. I can’t think of another coach who deserves winning the team’s first national title than Mary Lou.
“Just so proud,” she told Golf Channel afterward. “They fought and battled and we knew today was going to be just like it was. Lauren [Kim] did today what Sarah [Rhee] did yesterday. You knew she [Kim] was going to keep coming at you. To come through like that was just incredible.”
Speaking of Paige, I think she summed up the thrilling action that unfolded the best.
“What I’ve learned is that on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, we have the greatest execution,” said Paige. “That is what we’ve seen over the last two years with the women’s collegiate NCAA championship. You see the level rise. Those players played the best golf of their lives today, and we all got to witness it.”