Ecstasy and agony at NCAA Women's Championship

By Ryan LavnerMay 28, 2015, 2:42 am

BRADENTON, Fla. – Listen closely, and for a second you could hear absolutely nothing. Not a roar. Not a gasp. Not a sniffle. Silence.  

No one knew what to do or say – applaud an improbable comeback by Stanford, or mourn a loss so devastating that it left the entire Baylor team in tears?

“We all paused for a second,” Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse said, “like, Do we celebrate? What happens now?”

Eventually, of course, Stanford’s players, coaches and supporters flooded onto the green to revel in the school’s first women’s national title, a 3-2 victory over Baylor Wednesday at Concession Golf Club.

Stunning results such as these are always awkward. As Stackhouse was mobbed by her teammates, Baylor’s Hayley Davis, who missed a 5-foot par putt that would have sent their match to the 20th hole, booted her ball across the green and retreated to the woods. She veered left behind the trees, plopped down into the pine straw, buried her face in her lime-green polo, and sobbed so hard that her body shook.

One by one, Davis’ teammates drifted over to console her, their cries barely audible over the whooping and cheering some 30 yards away.

Whoa, it was over so fast – her lead, her match, her championship and, most of all, her career. Davis will go down, statistically, as the best player in program history.

Stanford women top Baylor for national championship | Scores

“That was the hard thing,” she said later Wednesday night. “My teammates gave me the chance to do it for them, and I wasn’t able to make it happen.”

Any lingering apprehension about whether match play was the right move for the women’s game was blown away Wednesday during an instant classic that, for the first time since 1996, spilled into overtime.

With the overall match knotted up at two points apiece, both teams’ title hopes rested on the anchor match between Stackhouse, the prolific winner and future LPGA star, and Davis, the do-everything senior who has almost single-handedly lifted the Bears into the sport’s upper echelon.

Clinging to a 1-up lead on the 16th tee, Davis took an aggressive line over the water but didn’t completely carry the hazard. Her ball ended up on a muddy patch, but she had a shot at the green. With the ball well above her feet, and her feet sinking, she choked down on a 9-iron, splashed out and hit the shot of the championship. The 7-footer gave Davis what seemed like a secure lead, 2 up with two to play.

“Under the conditions,” Baylor coach Jay Goble said, “that might have been the best shot I’ve ever seen.”

And the drama only got better from there, thanks to Stackhouse.

First came her 3-iron hybrid on the par-5 17th, which flew about 180 yards and scooted 25 feet past the cup. “As soon as it came off the clubface,” she said, “I was like, ‘This is money.’”

The two-putt birdie pushed the match to the 18th, where she hit an 8-iron from 145 yards to 15 feet for another huge birdie to square the match.

Even crazier was Stackhouse’s admission afterward that the entire scene had played out just as she had dreamt on Saturday night.

“It felt kind of silly,” she said, “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.”

And sure enough, the dream was realized on the first extra hole.

At the par-4 10th, Stackhouse played her second shot safely to the back of the green, about 20 feet away. Davis pulled her second shot onto the shaved collar left of the green, almost an identical spot to where she was in regulation. But after coaxing her putt to within 5 feet – a distance that seemed so automatic that several officials turned and walked toward the 11th – she shoved her par putt. Just like that, it was over.

“I’ve made probably thousands of 5-foot putts in my life,” Davis said, “and that one didn’t go in. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it completely.”

Stanford’s players screamed and danced and donned championship T-shirts and hats. Baylor’s stood to the left of the green, stunned, unsure what to say or what to do.

Eventually, their next move became clear, because their team leader was hurting. They formed a circle around Davis in the woods, and for two minutes they cried together.

They tried to put the moment in the proper context – Hey, we still reached the championship final! – but all Davis could muster through tears was, “I know, but it doesn’t matter right now.”

It was the first time in four years that her teammates could recall seeing Davis cry.

“I don’t know if there’s a right way to console her,” assistant coach Mary Michael Maggio said. “You just have to be there. Right now it hurts, but you just have to remind her that there’s nothing to hang her head about.

“You tell her that tonight, and tomorrow, and the next day, and for the next 60 days if you have to. Because we couldn’t have gotten here without her.”

Added Goble: “My heart aches for her. It’s a punch in the gut, but we’ll recover. We all will. It just stings being so close to the pinnacle of college golf.”

Stanford has reached that spot now, for the first time in program history.

That the Cardinal’s moment somehow arrived this year was even more remarkable.

Coach Anne Walker and her husband welcomed their first child in December, but she cut short her maternity leave when her team was on the cusp of collapsing, with four players battling injuries in the spring.

“We went through too much,” junior Lauren Kim said, “for this not to be ours.”

At breakfast Wednesday morning, Walker looked around at her players and had never seen them more exhausted. This new match-play format is a test of endurance as much as it is skill, so much so, Walker joked, “that this event should probably be sponsored by Red Bull.”

Adrenaline eventually takes over, and Stackhouse looked anything but drained over the frenetic final hour.

Kim had blisters on her feet all week after playing eight rounds in seven days, but as she watched her teammate’s star-making performance, “I didn’t even feel a thing.”

Make no mistake, though: Everyone felt something at the end, with the awkward juxtaposition of a celebration and a collapse.

Ten minutes after her final putt missed, Davis finally collected herself. She brushed away tears and walked in a daze toward the green, where she congratulated each and every member of Stanford’s victorious team.

No one knew what to do or say. So in that moment, they simply hugged.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.