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Top amateur golf moments of 2018, No. 9: Against all odds
Arizona's NCAA title-winning squad (Photo illustration)
Arizona's NCAA title-winning squad (Photo illustration)

At AmateurGolf.com, we admit to loving the amateur sector of this game for the stories, the depth of the players, the remarkable courses, the history of the tournaments and the sheer love of the game displayed by amateur golfers. As 2018 comes to a close, we’ve gathered the year’s best stories for a countdown to the end of the season. Be sure to come back each day to relive the moments that made amateur golf great this year.

Click here to see the whole list as it is revealed

Like it or hate it, match play at the national championship almost always delivers a good storyline. This spring, that meant living and dying with every Arizona surge and sink. It was an unlikely title for a team with a first-semester freshman, a transfer and no real headliner.

Arizona’s first national title since 2000, when head coach Laura Ianello was a player on the team, did not come without nerves and tears. In fact, the Wilcats bounced back and forth from looking like a lock to looking totally out of it to looking as if they been on a national-championship trajectory all along.

The real story began in January, when Arizona abruptly lost senior Krystal Quihuis to the Symetra Tour and gained Yu-Sang Hou, a first-semester freshman from Taiwan. Earlier in the year, Bianca Pagdanganan had joined the team as a transfer from Gonzaga. (She promptly won her first event, by the way, with a season-low score of 8 under).

During early-week stroke play at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., Arizona seemed guaranteed to make the eight-team match-play bracket in Round 3, only to drop six shots in the closing holes. It was very nearly devastating, because the team came back the next day and posted the worst score of Round 4 – a 17-over 305.

Pagdanganan, the final Wildcat on the course that day, poured in a 25-foot eagle putt at No.18 to get Arizona into a playoff that they ultimately won. Match-play victories followed against UCLA, the top seed, and Stanford, a team that has done better in this format year after year than any other program.

The final match-up against Alabama came down to the last player on the course: junior Haley Moore, a powerful yet emotional player who fed off the positive energy of Arizona assistant coach Derek Radley to take down Alabama senior Lakareber Abe. Moore had to rally after getting 2 down on the front nine, which showed why she was a great pick for Arizona’s anchor match.

Arizona’s title broke the mold in many ways. The Wildcats didn’t really fit the underdog profile, but that’s what they were on NCAA week. They clawed their way onto the bracket then dug in their heels. In 2017, Arizona didn’t even qualify for the national championship. The year before that, the Wildcats narrowly missed match play.

At the beginning of the year, winning a national title felt impossible to Ianello. But she saw something special in her team developing throughout the second semester, and never felt Arizona played to its potential in the regular season.

“When you have good people on the team, you don’t want to disappoint your teammates,” she said of her squad’s vibe.

Results: NCAA Division I Women's Championship
1COJennifer KupchoDenver, CO150065-74-70-71=280
T2CAAndrea LeeHermosa Beach, CA100077-69-71-65=282
T2PhilippinesBianca PagdangananPhilippines100071-68-71-72=282
4TXCheyenne KnightAledo, TX70070-69-70-74=283
T5SwitzerlandMorgane MetrauxSwitzerland70070-72-74-68=284

View full results for NCAA Division I Women's Championship

ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Women's Championship

24 teams and 12 individuals not on a qualifying team make up the field for the championship of NCAA Division I women's golf.

After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance to match play to determine the team champion.

View Complete Tournament Information

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