Sports

Stackhouse's clutch play leads to NCAA golf championship

 

The only time Stanford junior All-American Mariah Stackhouse ever led after the first hole in her match play competition with Baylor's Haley Davis was when she sank her final putt on the 19th hole to win in sudden death.

They were the final two golfers on the course. Sophomore Casey Danielson and freshman Shannon Aubert put the fourth-seeded Cardinal on the board, though the third-seeded Bears also won twice at the NCAA championship final at the Concession Golf Club in Florida on Wednesday.

Everything rested on the shoulders of Stackhouse and Baylor's senior All-American, who took the lead on the third hole and was unwilling to let it go.

"I actually thought a lot about it last night," Stackhouse said. "It felt kind of silly, but I envisioned some kind of crazy finish with me having to hit huge shots. I knew I was going to be down and I was going to have to do something crazy to come back."

Stackhouse birdied the final two holes just to force a playoff.

"We have worked hard for this all year," Stackhouse said. "It's do or die. There are two holes left. You've got to get through to even have an opportunity to win the championship. That's the kind of stuff you dream for as a golfer."

She made it short and sweet on the first playoff hole, giving Stanford its first-ever national women's golf championship and touching off a celebration.

"All I could think about was that our team had just won and we didn't have to play any more holes," Stackhouse said. "I looked back at the team thinking 'do we celebrate, what happens now?' and then this feeling of joy rushed over me. Lauren is always the first person I look to because she's my best friend on the team, and I've got to run and get this bear hug."

The victory was Stanford's second NCAA title of the school year and 107th overall. The Cardinal also won the women's water polo championship on May 10.

The Cardinal qualified for the NCAA tournament for the 30th time, and finished second in 2000 with future Women's U.S. Open champion Hilary Homeyer leading the way. Stanford finished among the top 10 in 16 previous years, including stretches of eight straight and 11 of 12.

In many ways it was an improbable run to the top. The road to the championship, which took six days to complete, was anything but smooth.

Stanford finished seventh at the Pac-12 Conference and second at the NCAA St. George Regional. The Cardinal was in fourth place following four rounds of stroke play. The Cardinal had to beat Arizona and Pac-12 champion USC on the same day, an exhausting physical and mental grind, to make it to Wednesday.

The Bears seemed to be in charge most of the way, seemingly gaining momentum when Laura Lonardi tied Danielson on the 14th hole after a disastrous trek on the treacherous 13th hole, a battle Lonardi managed to win despite needing seven shots to complete it.

The 13th proved unlucky for a lot of golfers.

Danielson took advantage of Lonardi's poor 17th to regain the lead and sealed it with a sweet 3-shot victory on the 18th.

"I knew Casey was a key match for us right out of the gate," Stanford coach Anne Walker said. "I thought if we can get Casey's match then we had a real shot at it. I had a good feeling about Casey. She kept putting herself in a good position."

Aubert never trailed in her match, eventually opening a five-hole lead and ending it on the 15th hole.

Lauren Kim never led in her match, although she gave herself a chance by closing to within 2 down on the 16th. Quirine Eijkenboom also shot a solid round but her opponent was a little better.

Stackhouse fell to 3 down following the eighth and fought back to 1 down three times before sinking a clutch shot on the 18th.

It could not have been more dramatic.

"The most important shot I hit was definitely my approach shot into 17," Stackhouse said. "She hit that great shot out of the hazard on 16, I was 'oh my gosh, you've got to be kidding me.' That was a true golf shot. I was thinking I had to set myself up for possibly birdie. As soon as it came off the club face, I felt 'this is money,' and it felt really good."

Kim could barely contain herself watching Stackhouse on the final hole of regulation.

"I just couldn't watch," she said. "I couldn't look. I was getting really nervous and trying to stay calm for my teammates and also inside I was shaking. When she made the putt on 18, I just went nuts and I was screaming."

The NCAA adopted match play for the women this season. It seems to have won some fans.

"I definitely like the format a lot better than stroke play," Kim said. "It brings more of a team aspect into it. In stroke play, you're focused on team and also individual simultaneously. With match play, it's all team, and it's so great to just be a family and experience this all together."

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics

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