Winning NCAA championships in events in which an individual performance factors into the team’s score — tennis, cross country, track and field, golf — requires a group to have “low sticks” and solid depth. This is to say that teams need contributions from both its frontrunners and back-of-the-lineup players to secure a trophy. One without the other will usually not complete the task. It takes a special group to coax out both at the same time; the old saying, “if it were easy, everyone would do it,” certainly applies here.
The Stanford women’s golf team entered the 2014 NCAA Women’s Golf Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the distinct possibility of getting this type of championship production from its quintet; sophomores Lauren Kim and Mariah Stackhouse were sure to lead the way at the top of the individual leaderboard, while some combination of freshman Casey Danielson and veterans Mariko Tumangan and Marissa Mar had the talent and experience fill the 3-4 slots.
But the Cardinal were only able to churn out half of the winning equation on the Tulsa Country Club last week en route to a disappointing 18th place finish in the 24-team event. The lone bright spot in head coach Anne Walker’s unit was Kim, who played perhaps the best the collegiate tournament of her career, placing third in a historically competitive field.
“Obviously we are disappointed to come to the finals and finish 18th,” Walker said of her team’s final position. “We had a great season and were looking forward to the opportunity to compete for a top-10 finish this week. But that’s golf. It just wasn’t to be; it wasn’t our week.”
While it may not have been Stanford’s week, it was certainly Kim’s. The sophomore, whose play during her second season has caused many to rethink who the best female golfer on the Farm is, held the outright lead at several points during the 72-hole championships, including midway through her final round. Scores of 67-71-72 put her T-3rd going into Friday’s fourth frame, which she executed exquisitely: 2-under through her first eight holes, the Los Altos High School graduate fired four consecutive birdies on 9-12 to move atop the leaderboard.
Although she was in the morning wave — meaning that she could be surpassed by golfers teeing off later in the day — Kim had a three-stroke advantage after her first 13 holes, a difference that put pressure on her opponents.
“That [3-under on the front-nine] was really exciting for me,” Kim said after her round. “I was dropping putts and giving myself good opportunities and good looks at birdie. I was just in the zone and in my rhythm. Everything was working really well, so it was a good stretch of holes and got me going for the rest of the round.”
However, Kim’s lead evaporated on the latter half of her back nine, as a bogey on the par-3, 175-yard 14th and a seven on the par-5 16th — just her second of the event — dropped her down to three-under for the tournament. Still, hope sprung eternal for the Stanford local, as she knew the afternoon groups had not yet played and that there was still a chance for the coveted victory.
“One of the things coach [Walker] and I always talk about and that I have been working on is just staying in the present more and not thinking about the past too much,” Kim said following her fourth-round 3-under 67. “That really helped and I know that anything can happen. I think being in the morning wave helped too because it helped me put things in perspective and realize you really do not know what will happen.”
But the victory she envisioned never materialized, as 54-hole co-leaders Doris Chen of USC and Celine Boutier of Duke battled intensely for top honors, which ultimately went to Chen. Boutier’s fourth-round 1-under 69 left Kim alone in third place, the highest finish for a Stanford golfer at an NCAA championship event since 1992. Despite narrowly missing out on what would have been the biggest win of her life yet, Kim was nevertheless lauded by her coach for her excellent play.
“Lauren was terrific this week,” Walker said. “She was successful because the course was set up like a major championship. You had to keep the ball in play at all times, and Lauren’s game is such that her misses are very small and she always had a roll at par. That allowed her to be very successful.”
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rest of the Card’s lineup. After finishing T-29th at the NCAA Finals a year ago, Stackhouse couldn’t improve on that performance in Tulsa, placing T-33rd with a cumulative 9-over 289 score.
Stackhouse struggled with her consistency at the Tulsa Country Club, combining to shoot even in her second and fourth rounds, but 9-over in the first and third. Particularly telling of Stanford’s issues with the back end of its lineup was the fact that she was the only other Stanford player in the top 90, with Danielson coming-in at T-94th — deviating heavily from the impressive numbers she put up over the course of the spring campaign.
Tumangan and Mar were similarly unable to provide Stanford the fourth score it needed to be competitive, finishing T-116th and T-118th respectively in the 126-woman field. Still, Walker saw through the struggles and noted the distinct upside of having a young team: They are coming back next season.
“Our top finishers from this week will all be returning next year, and that gives us great confidence and excitement heading into the 2014-15 season,” Walker said.
The Stanford program, while losing experienced seniors Mar and Danielle Fraser, is bringing in an outstanding recruiting class that includes France’s Shannon Aubert, the No. 46 female amateur in the world. By adding her to a lineup already featuring Kim, Stackhouse and Danielson, the Card will have an incredibly potent group that will be out to defend its Pac-12 title and finish strong at the NCAA Championships.
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.