To put Stanford's victory last weekend at the Pac-12 Women's Golf Championship into perspective, consider that the Cardinal, although ranked eighth in the nation, was supposedly no higher than fourth in the conference.
"What is more shocking is beating USC," Stanford coach Anne Walker said. "USC and UCLA have both been dominant, but more so USC. They have won something like eight of nine tournaments. The Pac-12 is by far the strongest conference in the nation."
Stanford this week was awarded the No. 3 seed in the East Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., (May 8-10), behind Duke and South Carolina. The Cardinal and Pepperdine are the only two schools from either the Pacific or Mountain Time zones in the regional, where four of the top five seeds earned the automatic bid out of their respective conferences.
Stanford's three nationally ranked golfers, No. 9 Mariah Stackhouse, No. 18 Lauren Kim and No. 33 Casey Danielson, all finished in a tie for ninth among individuals at the Pac-12 championships.
On Thursday, Stackhouse was named to the all-Pac-12 first team with Kim finding a spot on the second team. Danielson earned honorable mention.
Walker, currently in her second year as coach, has apparently hit pay dirt as a recruiter: Stackhouse and Kim are sophomores, Danielson is a freshman. Senior Marissa Mar and junior Mariko Tumangan also scored for Stanford.
"We have some nice leaders with Mariko and Marissa," Walker said. "You spend a lot of time together. The group energy has to be right."
Seniors Danielle Fraser and Pinewood grad Audrey Proulx of Atherton are added bonuses. Freshmen Quirine Eijkenboom and Jisoo Keel are stars in the making.
Danielson, who played in the Junior Ryder Cup as an accomplished junior golfer, might have been a little frustrated after a difficult fall season left her ranked 100th.
"It's not easy coming in as a freshman," Walker said. "I wasn't worried about her because in that first quarter there is a lot going on. Sure enough, she came back in the spring and settled in."
The Cardinal handled a set of challenges to put itself in position to win its first Pac-12 title since 1999, and second overall.
Walker said it came down to the short game and putting. When Stanford was good during the season, its short game and putting were good.
"Everything in practice revolved around those two things," Walker said.
Walker also heeded the advice of Hall of Fame women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer.
"I asked her about setting goals," Walker said. "She said 'there is no goal-setting. It's just one goal: win the Pac-12 title.'"
Stanford's trip next week to SouthWood Golf Club in Florida presents a unique set of challenges in addition to the one-goal rule.
"Northwest Florida is new territory for us," Walker said. "That's one part of the country none of us have been in."
The course also features Bermuda grass, a surface no one on the team has ever played on before.
"The golf course is so different," Walker said. "It plays different. No one was trained on the grass. We have four days to learn as much as we can. We have to understand how it affects the club face, how to attack the ball. We have to educate the players on the physics of the cup face."
Winning a conference tournament would seem to bring some perks, but the NCAA assigns teams on a fairly rigid basis. Stanford could have rationally expected to, at the very least, be assigned to the West Regional.
No such luck. Top-ranked USC was assigned the top seed in the West, being held in Washington, which also includes Arizona State, the host Huskies and Oregon.
UCLA, as the No. 2 team, was assigned the top seed in the Central Regional, being held in Stillwater (Okla.), which also includes Arizona, California and Colorado.
(The Lady Buffaloes finished last at the Pac-12 tournament. Oregon State and Utah were the only conference teams not to advance).
GolfStat appears to use a rational approach to its rankings, using comparative record (round robin, head-to-head comparison of all teams) to determine ratings. In its rankings released Wednesday, USC had a 259/259 comparative record to remain on top despite a tie, with Arizona, for second in the conference tournament.
That also means the NCAA committee seeded the regional tournaments based on rankings before the conference tournament was decided.
The latest GolfWeek rankings has six Pac-12 teams ranked in the top eight, with Stanford ranked fourth.
Pac-12 teams have won 16 national titles and have been runners-up (including Stanford in 2000) 12 times since 1990.
In the West, only one of the top seven seeded teams was an automatic bid, and none of the top 12 seeds in the Central are automatic bids.
There are changes coming in the women's game. This is the final year for stroke play, and a fourth regional will be added.
As for reaching the NCAA finals May 20-23 at Tulsa Country Club, Walker does have a second goal.
"It would be great if all nine (Pac-12) teams in the postseason make it to Tulsa," Walker said. "If that happens, no one will be complaining."
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