It was dominant, then it was close, and then it was over: Stanford is the winner of the NCAA DI Women’s Golf Championships.
The NCAA tournament started with 72 teams, with the Cardinal ultimately emerging victorious, 3-2, on Wednesday at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, despite a plucky effort from the Oregon Ducks.
It’s not necessarily a surprising result, seeing as Stanford is the top-ranked team in the country, but as the top seed following stroke play, there were superstitious discussions around the fact that the No. 1 seed has never gone on to win the national title since the start of match-play team finals in 2015.
Finally, things came together for the Cardinal to win its second national title as a program.
“For all the future No. 1 seeds, you’re welcome, because that question was getting tiresome,“ Stanford Head Coach Anne Walker said. “We’ve had great success, but it’s really hard to get to this spot, and this group – the energy, the camaraderie, this entire year – they’ve never picked their heads up and looked ahead. They just stayed one day at a time.”
Oregon was never quite able to gain control of the competition, which consisted of five matches.
Brooke Seay led off the Cardinal in a matchup against the Ducks’ Ching-Tzu Chen. Tied through three, Chen double-bogeyed the par-5 fourth, ceding the first of two consecutive holes. Seay was able to make it 3 up when she sunk a clutch putt for birdie on No. 7, taking control of the match. At one point, the junior was 5 up, and while Chen was able to earn one of those back with a birdie on the par-3 13th, she ultimately had to concede at the 15th. Final score: 4 and 3 – Stanford up 1-0.
Stanford’s senior leader Aline Krauter faced Oregon’s Taiwanese star Cynthia Lu in what would end up being the most commanding match of the day for the Cardinal. At the mid-way point, Krauter was 6 up. Lu also conceded at the 15th hole. Final score: 5 and 3 – Stanford up 2-0.
Oregon started to loosen up in the middle matches, showing glimpses of why it is the No. 2 team in the nation and No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Stanford's Rachel Heck, the 2021 individual NCAA champion, faced Heather Lin in a matchup that was tight through the front nine before Lin pulled away to go 3 up on the back nine. Heck almost made a hole-in-one on the par-3 13th, but the putt lipped out. On the next par 3 at 16, Lin struck the ball perfectly, landing it a short putt away and clinching the point for Oregon. Final score: 3 and 2 – Stanford up 2-1.
The Ducks' Briana Chacon was able to best Sadie Englemann after a long match that had the two tied on six occasions. It came down to the par-5 18th, where Englemann missed her long putt for birdie, opening the door for Chacon to make her birdie putt and win the match, 1 up.
Suddenly, it’s 2-2.
The winning point came down to 2022 individual champion Rose Zhang and Oregon’s Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen. While Zhang got off to a hot start, going 3 up by the third hole, Nielsen chipped away on the back nine. The Ducks had to win the par-4 17th for a chance at the title, but disaster struck when Nielsen accidentally ran over Zhang’s ball with her push cart, resulting in a one stroke penalty. Zhang took advantage of the open door, easily posting par and clinching the title with it.
After a day of true ups and downs, Stanford emerged victorious in a fair but certainly unique circumstance.
The rules for rolling over an opponent’s ball are different in stroke play vs. match play, with the former not penalizing players, and while Zhang ultimately didn’t need the extra putt to secure the victory, the mistake gave way to heightened emotions from the Oregon players and coaches.
“We started a little timid today,” Oregon head coach Derek Radley said. “I think the moment might have caught up to us a little bit, but man, did they fight at the end.”
There are plenty of silver linings for the Ducks. Despite the loss, this was the team’s best finish in program history, and next season, the team will return four of its starting five.
As for Stanford’s senior Krauter, it was announced on "College Central" that Walker has selected the German athlete to receive an exemption to play in the Dana Open at the end of August, which would be her first start on the LPGA Tour. She’ll be joined by Zhang, who also received an exemption.
“It means the world, really,” a tearful Krauter said when she learned the news. “Stanford has made me who I am today, and I’m just so grateful. I’m so grateful for this team. It’s been a long ride this year, but we made it so great.”