Coming off the program’s biggest win in recent memory, the No. 4 Stanford women’s golf team will look to avoid a letdown and continue its championship-level play at this weekend’s NCAA East Regional. Despite winning the ultra-competitive Pac-12 Tournament — an event that featured six of the country’s top 10 squads — the Cardinal received the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, which will be played on the Southwood Golf Course in Tallahassee, Florida.
While Anne Walker’s unit is certainly happy about advancing to the NCAA preliminary round, its seeding and regional placement were somewhat of a head-scratcher. The No. 3 slot, which indicates that the NCAA committee ranked Stanford as the ninth best team in the country, seemingly discounts the Card’s truly historic victory on at Trysting Tree a few weeks ago. It also does not align with GolfWeek’s collegiate rankings, which pegs the Cardinal as No. 4 in the nation.
In addition, Stanford is one of only two Pacific time zone squads in the 24-team field, meaning it will likely have a full day of travel before the wheels touch down in Florida. But despite the seemingly raw deal it received in its regional assignment, the group seems to have put all distractions out of sight in their march towards a national title.
“We weren’t thrilled with our draw in the East Region,” Walker said. “Getting to Tallahassee involves a lot of travel and obviously a quick time adjustment, especially given our early tee times for day one and day two. The other big factor at play is the Bermuda grass that we will face. It calls for a different kind of shot and strategy, one that we don’t have the opportunity to practice. With that being said, however, I know we will quickly adjust and make good decisions come game time.
“No matter what region you go to, you have to play well, and that will be our focus,” she added.
After placing fifth in the West Regional last season on their home course, the Cardinal are aiming to be even more competitive at this season’s regional event. But it will be a tough test in Tallahassee, with Stanford facing a field that counts five top-15 teams, including No. 3 and reigning ACC champion Duke. The two have faced each other three times in tournament play this season, with the Blue Devils beating the Cardinal all three times by a combined 65 strokes. Duke, which has to be considered the favorite in the field, will be led by Celine Boutier and Laetitia Beck, both of whom are ranked amongst the world’s top 30 female amateurs.
No. 9 South Carolina, which received the regional’s second seed, enters with an at-large bid from the SEC, a conference that was won by No. 13 Vanderbilt. The Commodores are the fourth seed in the East Regional, with No. 10 Pepperdine — the champions of the West Coast Conference — rounding out the top five teams in Tallahassee. Eight squads, plus two individuals, will advance to the NCAA Championships from each of the three regionals, meaning that if Stanford plays even close to its best, the quintet won’t have a difficult time moving on to Tulsa.
“We have a great opportunity to qualify for the finals,” Walker remarked. “We have a strong team from one to five with senior leadership, steady players and also players who can go low. That always makes for a competitive team.”
Walker will return three out of her five players from the 2013 regional team, with Sally Watson graduated and current senior Danielle Frasier not likely to play. Those two will likely be replaced by freshman Casey Danielson and senior Marissa Mar. Danielson’s improving play during the spring season has been a godsend for the Card, which needed a potent third scorer behind sophomores Mariah Stackhouse and Lauren Kim after Mariko Tumangan began to struggle.
Nevertheless, Tumangan was the only Stanford golfer to finish in the individual top 10 at last season’s regional event, with Stackhouse and Kim also placing in the top 20. But Watson was the next Cardinal player at T-65, which showed a lack of depth that didn’t allow the unit to be very competitive at the NCAA Championships. Stanford is already well on the way to addressing that issue, evidenced by the fact that four of its five players finished in the top 13 at the Pac-12 tourney. If the unit can replicate that performance at the regional event and beyond, it will have an excellent chance of bringing home hardware.
“We know our stats show that when we get the ball up-and-down 55 percent of the time, we can compete with any team in the country,” Walker said. “That goes for every individual too: Every player in our lineup can score when they play with a level head and make good decisions.”
Play at the 72-hole NCAA East Regional will begin today, with the event wrapping up on Saturday. If the Cardinal or one of their individuals advances, there will be ten days off before the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.