When Stanford traveled to Eugene, Ore., in April for a chance to win its first conference championship since 2014, Oregon stole the victory.
The Ducks, playing on their home soil, overtook the Cardinal’s first-round lead to win the Pac-12 title by seven strokes. Stanford, the No. 1–ranked team in the country and the overwhelming favorite, would have to patiently wait for a chance at another championship.
On Tuesday, the opportunity came Stanford’s way.
By defeating No. 8 Georgia in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Auburn in the semifinals on Monday, the Cardinal advanced to the championship match. As fate would have it, Stanford faced a familiar foe in the final: the Oregon Ducks.
This time around, the Cardinal could not be stopped. With consistent ball-striking and clutch putting, Stanford defeated Oregon 3-2 to win its second-ever NCAA Championship.
“It feels incredible,” head coach Anne Walker told GoStanford. “It takes really special people [to win with expectations], to be able to shut that noise out and be able to come out here and perform and allow yourself to swing free the way they did today.”
As in the quarterfinals and semifinals, the championship featured a best-of-five match-play format — the first team to secure three match-play victories would win the NCAA title.
The Cardinal got off to a fast start against Oregon, jumping out to early leads in three of five matches.
In the opening match, junior Brooke Seay took a commanding lead over Oregon’s Ching-Tzu Chen. After the two tied the first three holes with pars, Seay won the fourth, fifth and seventh holes to take a 3-up lead. She added to her advantage with two more wins on the 11th and 12th holes and ultimately prevailed 4&3 to give Stanford its first point of the afternoon.
Seay credited her success to an even-keeled approach throughout the tournament.
“Staying really patient and staying committed to every shot and leaving everything out there,” Seay said to Golf Channel after her match. “Really just focused on fairways and greens and being in the right place.”
The win concluded a memorable week for Seay, in which she won the Elite 90 award for her academic performance, made a hole-in-one and was one of just two Stanford golfers to go undefeated in match play.
In the second match of the day, senior Aline Krauter faced off against the Ducks’ Cynthia Lu. Krauter, who won the 2020 Women’s Amateur Championship, has earned a reputation as a formidable match-play opponent — and against Lu, she dominated the whole way.
Krauter’s 5&3 victory over Lu secured an undefeated match-play performance for the senior. More importantly, though, the win put Stanford one point away from an NCAA Championship.
Down 2-0 and on their last legs, the Ducks would not go down without a fight.
In match number four, Oregon’s Tze-Han Lin battled sophomore Rachel Heck. Heck, last year’s NCAA individual champion, struggled on the greens against Lin, missing several short putts. Nevertheless, she hung in the contest and was only 1-down after 12 holes.
Then, Heck almost aced the par-3 from, lipping out from 149 yards.
The near ace could have been the turning point in Heck’s match, but Lin would not concede the hole so easily. She also found the green with her tee shot and poured in a lengthy birdie putt to tie the hole.
From that point forward, Lin controlled the match. She won the next two holes and stuffed her approach close at the par-3 16th to all but guarantee a birdie. Heck conceded her putt, and Lin won 3&2, narrowing Stanford’s lead to 2-1.
In the third match, sophomore Sadie Englemann had a chance to clinch the national title for Stanford. After a close front nine, she managed to take a 2-up lead over Oregon’s Briana Chacon on the 14th hole.
Down two holes with four to play, Chacon demonstrated why she won the Albuquerque Regional just two weeks ago. She made a clutch birdie on the 15th to get within one of Englemann, and on the 17th, she tied the match up.
Heading to the 18th hole, Chacon needed a win to keep Oregon’s title hopes alive, and she executed — playing a masterful bunker shot and making the ensuing birdie putt to beat Englemann 1-up.
With the overall score now tied at 2-2, it all came down to the final match between freshman Rose Zhang and Oregon’s Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen.
Still riding the momentum from her NCAA individual championship win two days ago, Zhang took a 3-up over Nielsen lead heading to the back nine.
Even so, Nielsen, like the rest of the Oregon team, would not go down easily. She won the 12th hole and then birdied the 14th to get within one of Zhang.
Ever the competitor, Zhang responded to Nielsen’s advances by sticking her approach shot close on the 15th hole. She made the birdie to increase her lead back to two holes.
Her lead remained at two as the match moved to the 17th. At this point, Zhang needed to tie only one more hole to win the match and secure the title for Stanford.
Zhang teed off first on the par-4, hitting an iron shot into the thick rough right of the fairway. Nielsen followed, and her ball went in the same direction, coming to rest in the right rough 20 yards behind Zhang’s.
As Nielsen was further away, she hit her approach shot first. Her approach landed on the green but caught a slope and rolled back onto the fairway. Focused on her next shot, she walked briskly toward the green.
It was during this seemingly unimportant walk that Nielsen made a costly error: she accidentally rolled over Zhang’s golf ball with her push cart. In match play, contact with an opponent’s golf ball, even if accidental, incurs a one-stroke penalty.
The penalty all but secured the victory for Zhang and Stanford. With Nielsen lying three short of the green, Zhang could take three putts and still win the NCAA Championship.
And she only needed two.
In fitting fashion, Zhang stroked her five-foot par putt into the center of the cup to give Stanford the win. When the ball found the hole, her teammates rushed the green to congratulate her, screaming and crying tears of joy.
“It speaks to the caliber of player that they are, but it also speaks to the type of people that they are,” Walker said of the win. “They really desired that — they wanted that for each other. I think that fueled them to be able to do it more readily.”
Stanford’s NCAA win caps off what has been a dominant season for the team from start to finish. Coming into the year with sky-high expectations, the Cardinal met or exceeded them all, winning six tournaments as a team and maintaining their No. 1 ranking throughout the season.
While the team success took precedence — all season long, Walker espoused a team-first mentality — the year was also filled with inspiring individual performances.
Zhang, the No. 1–ranked amateur in the world, began her collegiate career by doing something not even Tiger Woods had accomplished: winning each of her first three starts. This week, her talent was on full display, as she took the NCAA individual title at six-under-par and won the Annika Award, which is presented to the top college golfer in the country.
Heck followed up her dominant freshman season with another strong campaign. She won individually at both the Lamkin Invitational and Gunrock Invitational to pick up her seventh and eighth career wins, respectively. She now sits in second on Stanford’s all-time wins list, one behind Andrea Lee ’20.
The season also saw the re-emergence of veterans Krauter and Seay, both of whom made Stanford’s national championship possible. Krauter was the Cardinal’s rock, finishing in the top 16 in every event she competed in before NCAAs. Seay registered five consecutive top-eight finishes during a stretch from November to May.
With several strong performances from Englemann, freshman Caroline Sturdza, junior Angelina Ye and many others, it was Stanford’s depth that allowed them to flourish. On any given day, each player in Stanford’s lineup could break par and propel the team to victory.
The NCAA Championship is Stanford’s third this academic year, after men’s gymnastics’ win in April and women’s water polo’s triumph earlier this May. It’s Stanford’s 131st NCAA title overall and the second in the women’s golf program’s history.
As the women’s golf team roster only features two seniors, the Cardinal will be in prime position to contend for another championship next season.