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Arizona State's NCAA Championship was over ... until it wasn't

ASU
ASU Athletics

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Just off the 18th green Monday evening at Grayhawk Golf Club, the tears were flowing. Arizona State head coach Missy Farr-Kaye had huddled her players, dressed head to toe in hot pink, and told them that their season was over.

Or so she thought.

As the Sun Devils ate a late lunch and watched the remainder of the television coverage at an outdoor table just outside of Phil’s Grill, the club’s restaurant and bar named after the recent PGA champion and famous Arizona State alum, Farr-Kaye’s phone buzzed. It was a nun at St. Xavier Prep, where Farr-Kaye and current freshman Ashley Menne attended high school.

“The nuns are in here praying for you right now,” the text read.

That’s when Arizona State’s NCAA Championship hopes started coming back into focus. LSU’s hot start began to fade. Wake Forest fell apart down the stretch. Florida State and Arizona were both hanging on the edge.

Farr-Kaye’s players then started teasing their coach that she had jumped the gun, prompting her to say, “Well, I guess the fat lady hasn’t sung yet.”

Farr-Kaye couldn’t explain it, other than to chalk it up to fate. “Things happen for a reason,” she said.

It’s been an emotional season for the Sun Devils, arguably more than any other team in the field. Sure, the coronavirus pandemic that canceled their fall has been trying, but that’s been nothing compared to the news Farr-Kaye broke to her players last November, right before she went into surgery to remove a mass and her appendix.

The 53-year-old, two-time breast-cancer survivor was battling the disease for a third time, this time colon cancer.

But Farr-Kaye, fueled by adrenaline, fought hard, never missing a tournament round despite undergoing chemotherapy. Shortly after her last dose in early April, doctors determined her cancer-free. She said she still battles “chemo fog,” even recently misplacing her 2017 NCAA Championship ring, and fatigue, but she’s thankful to have beaten cancer once again.

“I couldn’t be more blessed right now,” she said.

Her team has learned a thing or two from its coach. After earning a ticket to their hometown NCAA Championship, the Sun Devils bounced back from a slow start and were good position heading into Monday’s final round. But a stomach virus that has worked its way through the squad this week, including Farr-Kaye, finally caught up to them.

Fifth-year senior Olivia Mehaffey almost fainted midway through her closing round and struggled to a 77, which Arizona State had to count after Alessandra Fanali shot 78. In total, the Sun Devils posted an 8-over 296 and were left on hanging on the edges of their seats as play finished up.

Earlier in the day, Auburn had completed a remarkable comeback over the final 36 holes, shooting 10 under on Monday and finishing at 18 over, so the Tigers were quickly in and now will face Oklahoma State in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

"We knew what we needed to do," said Auburn head coach Melissa Luellen, whose team earned the eighth seed at the last NCAA Championship two years ago before reaching the semifinals. "We had a goal and they just didn’t waiver. ... We were like the Kardiac Kids just to get here. This is just some of the greatest golf I’ve ever seen."

That left Wake Forest, Florida State, LSU and Arizona to battle for the final spots while Arizona State could only watch. The Demon Deacons shot 10 over to drop five spots and finish 12th. LSU came up one shot shy of Arizona State. Florida State rallied late only for Alice Hodge to double the final hole, the ninth, and end up tied with LSU for ninth.

Arizona, after a Yu-Sang Hou closing par, finished tied with its in-state rival for seventh yet received the eight seed and a matchup with top-seeded Stanford. Ole Miss and Texas will meet in another quarterfinal while the Sun Devils will face Duke.

Farr-Kaye and her players had made their way to the range to prepare for a playoff when they received word that they had survived another day here at Grayhawk. There were more tears, though this time they were of the joyous variety.

“I said that was the omen, I had already ended the season,” Farr-Kaye said. “We were done, and I was OK with it…

“I couldn’t be happier to be wrong on that one.”