The newly crowned NCAA Division I champion Stanford women's golf team received a heroine's welcome on Thursday when it returned to campus about noon local time. Administrators, coaches, fellow student-athletes and well-wishers greeted the team when it arrived in front of Maples Pavilion.
Junior All-American Lauren Kim was first out and proudly displayed the championship trophy.
"We have blisters I have never seen before," said Anne Walker, Stanford's head coach. "It was brutal 11-hour days. These guys are true athletes."
On Wednesday at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., where temperatures soared into the high 90s, the Cardinal defeated Baylor, 3-2, to win its first NCAA women's golf title in 30 appearances. All five players made great contributions during the week-long tournament that saw Stanford play seven rounds in six days.
Ultimately, the first-ever women's match play final came down to the last match, where junior All-American Mariah Stackhouse edged Hayley Davis with a two-putt par on the first hole of sudden death, setting off a wild celebration behind the 10th green. Tiger Woods watched the entirety of the final on the Golf Channel and called Walker two minutes after the win.
"Great comeback,' he said. "Couldn't be prouder."
The team stayed up until 3 a.m. (ET) to watch a replay of the final match at their hotel.
"This is why you work, practice and lose sleep," Stackhouse said. "This is why you wear that Block 'S' on your sleeve. It was the most amazing experience."
This, from a player who shot a 61, the lowest women's score in NCAA history, in the Peg Barnard Invitational as a freshman.
"This is much better," beamed Stackhouse.
Among those greeting the team were professor Condoleezza Rice; M-A grad John Tanner, who guided the women's water polo team to its second consecutive NCAA title this year; Dick Gould, the John L. Hinds Director of Tennis; and senior Patrick Grimes, captain of the men's golf team and a Menlo School grad, who hugged every member of the winning group.
"We're pretty tired emotionally and psychologically," said Kim.
Stackhouse finished sixth and Kim tied for seventh in the 54-hole stroke-play portion of the tournament.
As an added bonus, Kim received an exemption to play in the LPGA Marathon Classic, July 16-19 in Sylvania, Ohio.
"I'm excited," she said. "I'm flying home from Korea for the tournament after playing in the World University Games."
Freshman Shannon Auburt and sophomore Casey Danielson each went 3-0 in match play.
Walker called Auburt "Steady Eddie," and revealed that she spent a day practicing wedges and playing golf with Woods in Florida during spring break.
"He said to give him a call and she did," said Walker.
The women's golf team was also grateful to the men's team for coming out to root them on Wednesday. The men will compete in the NCAA Championships starting Friday at The Concession.
"We knew they were coming," Stackhouse said. "They split up between groups on the course. It was great to have them supporting us."
Stackhouse spent a sleepless night Tuesday thinking about her match against Davis. Walker deliberately slotted her in the fifth and final match because she thought she could handle the pressure.
"I know a lot of people thought the match was over," said Stackhouse, who was 3-down after eight holes. "To be honest, I was very calm. I played those last three holes well all week."
Stackhouse didn't count on Davis making a miraculous birdie off a muddy lie in the hazard at the par-4 16th hole to fall 2-down. But the Curtis Cup standout knew anything could happen in match play and never lost her composure.
After cutting the lead in half with a two-putt birdie at the par-4 17th, Stackhouse hit a beautiful approach shot to the par-4 18th and rolled in a 16-foot birdie putt to square the match.
"I've owned that hole all week," she said. "It was the only straight putt I had the whole tournament."
Stackhouse snuck a peak at her father, Ken, who started her in golf and was tearing up in the gallery.
Contrary to what was reported on television, Stackhouse did not close both eyes before putting.
"I always close my left eye," said Stackhouse.
Walker, who was a three-time golf captain at Cal and was inducted into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013, walked with her step-for-step on the back nine.
"I am so thankful she was right there," Stackhouse said. "I was doing okay, but she kept reminding me that I was hitting great shots and did a good job of putting it in my mind and keeping me in the moment."
She also helped her enjoy the pressure-packed experience.
"We were talking about things unrelated to golf," said Stackhouse. "When we were talking to the 10th tee (for the playoff), she was talking about alligators. She said, 'How much fun is this?' "
While Stanford did not win a tournament during the regular season and battled through injuries, all thought winning an NCAA Championship was a realistic goal.
"I think every one of us believed this was possible," Stackhouse said. "If you have Anne Walker as your coach, you know it's possible. She always believed in us."