To begin its postseason, No. 1 Stanford women’s golf competed in the Pac-12 Championships this week in Eugene, Ore. The Cardinal vied for their first conference title since 2014 but came up just short, finishing in a tie for second behind No. 2 Oregon.
“We are proud of our finish and our fight,” said head coach Anne Walker after the final round on Wednesday. “It was a long, cold, wet day, and our players never once complained. They fought as hard as they could, showed tremendous resilience and played with heart.”
As the top-ranked team in the country with five team victories this season, Stanford headed into the event as the favorite. However, tournament hosts Oregon proved to be a formidable opponent throughout the week.
“Oregon is arguably the hottest team in the nation right now and we were on their heels for almost the entire tournament,” Walker said. “With the difficult conditions, home course advantage becomes even more of a factor. Knowing the angles and the slopes is a big advantage.”
Indeed, as wind and rain derailed several teams in the field at Eugene Country Club, Oregon used its home course advantage to avoid posting big numbers.
Additionally, Stanford had to overcome the absence of reigning Pac-12 champion and Annika Award winner sophomore Rachel Heck, who missed the tournament due to a non-COVID-19 illness.
“We did miss Rachel, but we had a terrific team performance from all our starters,” Walker said. “This team is strong top to bottom, and that was key for us in Rachel’s absence.”
In the tournament’s opening round on Monday, the Cardinal proved that they could succeed without Heck, as they vaulted into first place with a score of two-over-par 290.
No. 1 amateur in the world freshman Rose Zhang led the way with a one-under-par 71 in cold and wet conditions. Junior Brooke Seay and senior Aline Krauter posted rounds of 72 and 73, respectively, while sophomore Sadie Englemann shot 74.
Before the Cardinal had a chance to build their lead on Tuesday, though, they had to wait out a five-hour rain delay. Stanford was originally scheduled to tee off at 10:30 a.m. but ultimately began at 3:39 p.m. after a storm rolled through Eugene.
With the late start, the Cardinal did not finish their round on Tuesday before play was suspended due to darkness. Over the course of the day, Stanford fell from first into a tie for fourth behind Oregon, No. 7 Arizona State and Washington.
On Wednesday, the Cardinal completed their second round in the early morning before teeing off for their final round. Coming from behind, Stanford made a valiant push for the team title.
On a day where the field scoring average was nearly four strokes over par, Seay posted a strong final-round 73. Krauter and Englemann followed with matching rounds of 75.
Zhang, already a three-time individual champion this season, sought to chase down Oregon’s Hsin-Yu Lu in the final round.
Teeing off on the sixth hole in a shotgun start, Zhang birdied the 10th and 13th holes and eagled the 16th en route to a four-under-par 33 on the back nine. With less than holes remaining, she was within three shots of the lead.
Ultimately, Zhang shot a one-under-par 71 in the final round. Her two-under-par total for the tournament was good for second place individually.
“Rose played solid,” Walker said. “She is a world-class player, so of course she always wants to win, but she’s pleased to finish second behind an Oregon player with local knowledge and advantage.”
As a team, Stanford finished at 13-over-par, seven strokes behind Oregon. The Cardinal also tied No 29 Oregon State, who posted a tournament-best three-under-par in the final round.
Despite the team’s stellar track record this season, Walker knows how hard it is to win, especially in the postseason.
“It is always difficult to win a golf tournament, regardless of what week it is. We have never taken any win for granted and never will,” Walker said. “What we can do is prepare, visualize and give our very best each day to get a little bit better; that’s the ultimate goal. If we have some wins along the way, then we will celebrate and enjoy because in the sport of golf, they are rare.”
After the conclusion of the Pac-12 Championships, four Stanford golfers had a moment to enjoy some of their individual success. Heck, Krauter, Seay and Zhang were all named to the 12-person Pac-12 All-Conference Team.
Stanford will have over two weeks off to practice before the NCAA Regionals, which begin on May 9. The Cardinal will host the tournament at the Stanford Golf Course.
Regional selections will be announced by the NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Committee on April 27.