After battling through wind, rain and an extremely competitive field in its NCAA Regional, Stanford women’s golf looks to end its season strong at the NCAA Championships in Bradenton, Florida.
The field of 24 teams will encounter a new format for the tournament this year. After three rounds of stroke play, the field will be cut to 15 teams and the top nine individuals from teams that did not advance. After another round of stroke play, the top eight teams will advance to match play to decide the champion. This change in format means that the winning team will play a grueling seven rounds of golf over the course of the tournament, which takes place May 22-27 at Jack Nicklaus’ renowned Concession Golf Club.
Most collegiate tournaments have just three rounds, so the NCAA Championships will require more physical and mental endurance than any other tournament this season. While the Cardinal are making their sixth consecutive appearance at the championships, the team relies on several underclassmen for success. When asked about her young golfers, head coach Anne Walker was optimistic about their ability to seize the moment.
“We received terrific play from our underclassmen in a pressure-filled situation,” Walker said in reference to stellar play from sophomore Casey Danielson and freshman Shannon Aubert. “I think the mental toughness we needed here will benefit us in Florida.”
The Entrada at Snow Canyon Golf Course certainly provided a mental challenge. Inclement weather led to high scores from all the competitors, resulting in just six rounds below par. With so few birdies to be had on the course, most teams had to scramble for pars to stay competitive.
However, the Cardinal did an exceptional job of making the most of their opportunities, leading the tournament with 33 birdies on the way to finishing second in the regional. Aubert, junior Lauren Kim and sophomore Quirine Eijkenboom had eight each, a total which would have beaten more than half of the teams in the regional. Those birdies, combined with three consistent rounds from Danielson, were instrumental in Stanford’s day-to-day improvement over the course of the tournament, as the Cardinal posted a final round of 290 after a first-round 304.
The Cardinal’s slow start to the tournament made it impossible to catch third-ranked USC, which flashed its championship credentials in a convincing wire-to-wire victory. On the individual leaderboard, Kim’s final-round 71, made possible with four birdies on the back nine, helped her earn a tie for seventh place. Danielson joined Kim in the top 10, tying for ninth place after being the Cardinal’s most consistent golfer over three rounds.
While Stanford’s championship hopes are slim, a strong finish would establish the Cardinal as potential contenders next season. All five golfers participating in the Championships (Aubert, Danielson, Eijkenboom, Kim and junior Mariah Stackhouse) will return next season, where the experience of a tough regionals and championships will help the Cardinal iron out consistency issues that have plagued them all season. Although the Pac-12 is the strongest conference in the country, with Washington, UCLA and USC ranked as the top three teams, Stanford should pose a serious threat to the conference’s elite next season.
Though the future for the Cardinal is bright, there is still an opportunity to make a deep run in Florida this year. While the tournament may be the longest the Cardinal will play in this season, the structure of the championships lends itself to high variability. Four rounds of stroke play gives Stanford enough time for its deep pool of talented golfers to post low scores that can propel them into the top eight. At last year’s NCAA Championships, Kim bookended her tournament with three under-67s en route to third place, the best a Cardinal golfer has done in over 20 years.
Over the course of the season, each of the Stanford golfers has had moments of brilliance, demonstrating championship-level talent. With the same aggressive, opportunistic approach they showed in the regionals, the talented Stanford contingent can move on to the match play rounds, where it has a chance to realize its promising future earlier than expected.
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at ssri16 ‘at’ stanford.edu.