For the 12th consecutive season, No. 1 Stanford women’s golf will be heading to the NCAA Championships. With their season on the line, the Cardinal finished in a tie for second at the NCAA Regional at the Stanford Golf Course on Wednesday, punching their ticket to the national tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Last season, Stanford dominated the regional tournament from start to finish. Then-freshman Rachel Heck and then-sophomore Angelina Ye finished one-two, as the Cardinal won by a whopping 30 strokes. This year, with four of the top-25 teams in the country in the field — No. 12 USC, No. 14 LSU, No. 24 Texas Tech and No. 25 Kentucky — such a lopsided victory would not be in store.
In the opening round on Monday, Stanford got off to a slow start but rallied on the back nine to end the day in third place out of 12 teams.
“I thought we were a little tight coming out of the gate, and that’s to be expected,” head coach Anne Walker told GoStanford after the first round. “The conditions were hard — wind was blowing, and it was cold. We were several over through the first six holes, then I saw everyone settle in, start to be patient and putts started falling. I was really proud of the way we came back to shoot one-under for the day.”
The No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, freshman Rose Zhang, led the Cardinal with a two-under-par 69 in the first round. Zhang made three birdies, while her only bogey of the day came on the difficult 10th hole.
Junior Brooke Seay found herself two-over-par through six holes but reversed the momentum of her round to tie Zhang’s 69. Seay shot a bogey-free 33 on the back nine to do so.
“Brooke has been playing great all spring, but these last two weeks she’s been working so hard,” Walker said.
Senior Aline Krauter and sophomore Sadie Englemann rounded out Stanford’s scoring on Monday with rounds of 72 and 73, respectively. After one day, Stanford trailed USC by three shots and LSU by four.
Heck, the tournament’s defending champion and reigning Annika Award winner, posted a four-over-par 75 on Monday in her first competitive round in over a month. Heck missed the Pac-12 Championships due to a non-COVID-19 illness.
“I think it was a big deal to have her get 18 holes under her belt,” Walker said after Heck’s first round. “I feel she was right on the edge today; she was a little bit rusty. Anyone that took four weeks off would be rusty, and if she can play again tomorrow, then that’s a small win.”
Heck would not return to the lineup in round two. Freshman Caroline Sturdza filled her spot in the five-golfer lineup at the last minute.
“Sturdza subbed in late, got to the first tee with 20 minutes’ notice and goes driver, three wood to 20 feet for eagle, and I think that set the tone for her,” Walker said. “It was a really comforting first hole. I’m very proud of her.”
Sturdza posted a gutsy, even-par 71 on Tuesday.
In the second round, Krauter, a postseason veteran, tied her lowest score of her career in relation to par. She birdied the third, fourth, seventh and 15th holes in her bogey-free 67.
“Krauter’s shots in general — they’re better than they’ve ever been,” Walker said. “But her patience is higher, and she understands the game really well.”
Englemann and Zhang also broke par in the second round, with scores of 69 and 70, respectively. Entering the final round, Stanford was chasing USC from four strokes behind.
On Wednesday, the Cardinal made a final run to get close to USC but ultimately finished in a tie for second with LSU.
Zhang led the final-round charge with a statement front nine. The true freshman got her round underway with a birdie on the easy par five first hole. Later, Zhang made eagle on the seventh hole and birdie on the eighth on the way to a scorching 31 on the front.
Zhang cooled off a bit, but she added a final birdie on the 17th. She would finish with a five-under-par 66, the lowest score of the Stanford Regional. Only USC freshman Amari Avery beat her, and just by a single stroke in the tournament’s individual competition. In eight starts in her young college career, Zhang now has three wins and three second-place finishes.
“Rose is incredible. She didn’t have her A-game this week, but there she was still scratching for the title at the end,” Walker said.
Seay finished her strong tournament performance with a one-under-par 70 on Wednesday. Her one-under-par total for the tournament was good for a tie for eighth individually. Englemann tied for 12th in the individual competition, while Krauter tied for 16th.
Overall, it was a strong regional performance for the top-ranked Cardinal team. Most importantly, by finishing in the top four teams, Stanford qualified for the NCAA Championships. Still, Walker knows that the team needs to improve.
“I think before we head to Arizona, we have quite a bit of work to do,” she said. “There were some missed shots here or there. Some of that was playing at home and having a cushion, but we’ll get to work and refocus.”
Next, after over a week of practice, the team will head to Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, for the NCAA Championships, which begin May 20. The Cardinal will need to survive four rounds of stroke play qualifying to advance to the match-play bracket.