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.
“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.