Survive and advance: Women’s golf heads to NCAA final

Cardinal to take on Oregon Ducks in championship match

May 25, 2022, 12:12 a.m.

Junior Brooke Seay has had a good week. 

On Sunday, Seay received the Elite 90 award, which is presented annually to the student-athlete with the highest grade point average at the NCAA Championships. 

On the 16th hole of Monday’s stroke play round, she made a hole-in-one, finding the cup with a pitching wedge from 129 yards. Her final round 72 helped Stanford claim the No. 1 overall seed for match play. 

But most importantly, Seay came back to win both her quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Tuesday, sending the Cardinal to their first NCAA final since 2016. Seay sealed the deal with a birdie on the 18th hole to defeat Auburn’s Kaleigh Telfer 1-up.

After the round, head coach Anne Walker could only describe Seay’s performance as “unbelievable.”

“She was one-down all the way through 10,” Walker told GoStanford about Seay’s quarterfinal match. “Never let it get to her and went birdie-birdie-birdie.”

It was Seay’s under-par stretch on the back nine that gave Stanford the spark it needed to take down No. 8 seed Georgia.

Sophomore Rachel Heck, last year’s NCAA individual champion, defeated the Bulldogs’ Jenny Bae 2-up, and senior Aline Krauter provided a third point over LoraLie Cowart to lift Stanford to the semifinal.

Sophomore Sadie Englemann lost her match to Caterina Don 3&1. Freshman Rose Zhang, one day removed from her NCAA individual title, fell in her quarterfinal match 1-down.

Zhang had an eagle putt on 18 that could have tied the match but was able to pick up her ball, as Krauter had already clinched the winning point.

“I have no doubt [it] would’ve tied that match,” Walker said of the putt.

With their narrow 3-2 victory over Georgia, the Cardinal moved on to the semifinal against No. 5 seed Auburn. In the morning, the Tigers defeated No. 4 seed UCLA, also by a score of 3-2.

“We have to be really determined,” Walker said ahead of the afternoon’s semifinal match. “We know that they’re going to come out hungry … and we just have to keep fighting.”

Indeed, Auburn came out hot and took an early advantage in the competition. With the matches reaching the back nine, Auburn still held the overall lead — the Bulldogs were ahead in three matches, tied in one and behind in one.

Zhang controlled the one match Stanford led entering the back nine. After an off match by her standards in the quarterfinal, Zhang dominated her semifinal against Auburn’s Mychael O’Berry. She found herself 6-up through 10 holes and ultimately prevailed 5&4 to put Stanford on the board.

Krauter entered her back nine trailing Elina Sinz by one hole. She righted the ship with back-to-back wins at the 10th and 11th holes before earning another win at the 14th to take a 2-up lead. Later, at the 16th hole, Krauter drained a 20-foot par putt to maintain her advantage with two holes to play.

Just one hole later, Krauter locked up Stanford’s second point with a 2&1 victory.

“[Krauter] is really hard to ruffle her feathers in match play,” Walker said. “She won the British Amateur, and the day she won that, she was three down through six. She’s been in that situation and knows how quickly things can turn, and I think that serves her very well.”

Meanwhile, with Englemann and Heck down in their matches, Seay was trying to clinch the decisive third point. Like Krauter, she made a clutch par on 16, getting up and down from below the surface of the green.

Seay led by one heading to the 17th hole, but her opponent, Telfer, would not quit. After finding the green with her approach shot, Telfer rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to square the match.

At that point, the semifinal was up for grabs. While Stanford led 2-1, Heck was trailing in her match, and Seay was tied in hers. If nothing changed, the two teams would be locked in a sudden death playoff.

Seay made sure the match wouldn’t get that far.

In perhaps the biggest moment of her college career, she hit two nearly perfect shots on the 18th hole: a driver down the center and a fairway wood that came to rest within 25 feet of the cup.

Telfer failed to convert her birdie putt on 18, and moments later, Seay rolled in a four-foot putt to win it for Stanford.

It was a gritty performance for Seay and Stanford, who battled throughout Tuesday’s 36 holes to advance to the championship match.

“It was hard today on that back nine,” Walker said. “It was very hot, it’s a demanding golf course, and it was getting late in the day. [Auburn] dug really deep, and our team dug a little deeper.”

On the other side of the bracket, a familiar foe emerged to face Stanford: No. 2 Oregon. The Ducks, who have been right behind Stanford in the NCAA rankings for much of the season, have already edged out the Cardinal on two occasions, beating them at the Ping ASU Invitational in March and Pac-12 Championship in April.

Wednesday’s duel will be for all the marbles, settling the Pac-12 battle and NCAA competition once and for all.

Seay will look to add to her memorable week, teeing off in the final’s first match against Oregon’s Ching-Tzu Chen at 1:35 p.m. PT. Zhang will take on Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen in the last match at 2:15 p.m. PT.

The final will be held at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. and televised on the Golf Channel.

Gavin McDonell is a former managing editor of the sports section. He is a junior from San Francisco, California who is studying Economics and Mathematics. His rooting interests include the San Francisco Giants, the Golden State Warriors, Max Homa and of course, the Stanford Cardinal. Contact him at gmcdonell 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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