FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – If Haley Moore and her Arizona teammates needed any reminder that they were the defending NCAA champions, they got it Tuesday afternoon.
While waiting out a six-plus-hour weather delay in the Blessings Golf Club lounge, the Wildcats sat around as last year’s triumph at Karsten Creek replayed on the televisions.
“They were watching themselves on TV winning a national championship,” Arizona head coach Laura Ianello said. “If there’s anything more motivating than that, I don’t know what that is.
“They were kind of building confidence without us even knowing it.”
None more so than Moore, the senior who last year became the Wildcats’ hero by sinking the clinching putt. Three down on Tuesday to USC sophomore Gabi Ruffels through six holes, Moore wasn’t worried, using the break not to retreat from a poor start but rather regroup and reload for an afternoon rally.
After all, she had done this before.
“I did make some good putts coming down the stretch [last year],” Moore said, “and I was like, 'It could happen.'”
It did. In shades of Stillwater, Moore delivered in the clutch again for Arizona, rallying past Ruffels and making an 18-footer for birdie on the final hole to send the Wildcats to the semifinals.
“I think they know that I do come in clutch, so to have that pressure on me is kind of fun,” Moore said, “but it’s also nerve-racking.”
Moore is more equipped now than ever to handle those nerves. Last year was the breakthrough, when Moore proved to herself and her teammates that she could overcome her emotions on the biggest of stages. Now, she’s comfortable in the spotlight.
She showed it last month at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. And she showed it again Tuesday.
Moore immediately grabbed the momentum after the restart, winning Nos. 16 and 17 to get back to 1 down. Even after losing the par-4 18th with a double bogey, Moore didn’t waver. Three holes later, she had squared the match.
Then came a short miss on the par-4 fifth. Moore had been forcing Ruffels, who was struggling with her putter, to make short putts for much of the match. She even failed to concede a 3-footer for par to Ruffels despite already double-bogeying the 18th. Moore apologized afterwards, saying, “I just forgot. … That’s on me." But this time, it was Moore missing from close range.
“I was like, 'Oh my gosh, the wheels might be turning a little bit,'” Ianello said.
Ianello went up to Moore on the next tee and attempted to give her a confidence boost.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get it back,” she said.
Moore didn’t need it.
“She nodded,” Ianello said. “No tears, no quivering. Nothing. Totally calm.”
At that moment, Ianello knew Moore would win. Moore birdied three of her next four holes, including the last, to earn the Wildcats a semifinal date with second-seeded Duke.
“She’s so clutch under pressure,” Ianello said. “She’s a stud.”
Moore will go off second Wednesday morning against the Blue Devils’ best player, Jaravee Boonchant. Ianello is confident Moore can get the job done again.
More importantly, so is Moore.
Moore’s story of how she’s overcome being bullied and transformed into a confident champion has made her an inspiration to many. Moore said she’s gotten many kind messages from strangers who have been impacted by her journey.
“I think they inspired me even more,” Moore said.
Ianello is reduced to tears whenever she thinks about Moore turning pro. She bawled like a baby at Moore’s recent graduation. And she cried again Tuesday.
“We’re not going to have Haley anymore, and I don’t know what the team is going to be like without her because she’s been such a huge force and a huge impact on her team,” Ianello said. “It’s going to be so different without her.”
It will be impossible to replace Haley, the Wildcats' Miss Clutch, who on Wednesday could find herself with yet another chance to secure a national title for Arizona. She doesn’t need to be reminded, she knows she can deliver.