Southern Cal went to the course on Friday with a plump lead and forward momentum.
But memories of last year, when the Trojans finished runner-up by a shot, stayed in Southern Cal golfers’ minds until the final putt dropped for a 21-stroke victory in one of the most dominating performances in NCAA Women’s Golf Championship history.
Southern Cal began Friday’s fourth round with a 17-stroke lead over second-place Duke and shot an even-par 288 to avoid any drama, and the Trojans’ Annie Park won individual medalist honors by six strokes.
“Last year was year was pretty brutal, losing by one shot,” Southern Cal junior Sophia Popov said. “We were five ahead going into 15 last year and we all thought that was amazing. Suddenly that lead just kind of crushed down and we were one back and it was just terrible. I thought we all played amazing golf and we lost by one. It was comfortable to have that kind of lead going into the last round. We had security. It’s a lot easier to go to the first tee knowing that I could not have the greatest round but I’ve got four players who’ve got my back. The depth of the team really helped. It was fun playing with them.”
Southern Cal turned Friday’s final round at the UGA Golf Course into a victory lap as the Trojans finished the tournament at 19 under and won with 21 strokes separating them from their nearest competitor. It is the fourth national championship for Southern Cal, which helped ease the pain of a last year’s runner-up finish.
“Last year was on my mind the whole time,” Southern Cal junior Rachel Morris said. “That one shot, you’ll never forget it. We learned that every shot is important, even from the first day. I think it gave us a lot of fire in the last round.”
Park shot 1-under 71 on Friday and finished the tournament at minus-10 to win by six over Duke’s Lindy Duncan. She had eight birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey in her final round.
“My scorecard was not the cleanest that’s for sure,” Park said. “I had a tough beginning. I was trying to make some pars. But it was just bogey, birdie, bogey, birdie on the first nine. But it felt great to finish up with a birdie on the last hole.”
Park is the seventh freshman in NCAA history to win the national championship, joining a list that includes Georgia’s Vicki Goetze in 1992 and Southern Cal’s Jennifer Rosales in 1998.
“I guess the common theme for her through the year and through this tournament is her stability,” Southern Cal assistant coach Justin Silverstein said. “She’s able to bounce back when something doesn’t go right. She doesn’t change emotions with her, whether she makes three birdies in a row or a couple of bogeys. Her ability miss in the proper spot is something you rarely see in a 17 or 18 year old.”
Southern Cal set a host of NCAA records this week. Its 21-stroke margin of victory is the largest since Arizona won by 21 in 2000. It’s 72-hole score of 19-under 1,133 broke the 72-hole NCAA championship record of 1,148 set by UCLA in 2004. And Southern Cal became the second team to have the lowest score in all four rounds of the championship, joining Tulsa in 1982.
Southern Cal took control of the tournament on Wednesday when it set an NCAA championship record with a total of 276. It was also the first time a program has swept both the team and individual championship since Anna Grzebien and Duke in 2005.
“It was still a nail-biting round,” Southern Cal coach Andrea Gaston said. “When you’ve got the wind blowing, that’s not in our control. But these girls know what they’re doing. They’ve played in all kinds of conditions. To me no lead is ever big enough. We have to take care of business out there. I think maybe we started to enjoy the ride a little bit maybe about the 14th hole. I just saw so much fight in all these girls.”
Duke finished runner-up by a lopsided margin, as well. The Blue Devils shot a 2-over 1,154 to take second place by 19 strokes over third-place Purdue and 20 strokes over fourth-place UCLA. Duke shot 4 over in the final round and in windy conditions on Friday but could not make up any ground on the Trojans.
“It was going to be a long day and we were going to have to play really, really well,” Duncan said. “We knew we were going to have to get some help from [Southern Cal]. They’re such a solid team and they have great experience and they have such great coaching and everything. They did an amazing job and I’m very happy for them. This is great. We took second place in the national championship and our team’s been struggling a little bit for the last few years. This was the first time that I’ve been on a team that was close to contention here so it’s great to get a trophy.”