Wake Forest worked overtime to advance to the NCAAs (WFU photo)
TALLAHASSEE, FL (May 9, 2018) - Wake Forest turned the final round of NCAA Regionals into a very determined game of leap frog on Wednesday, and after enduring one extra hole, the Demon Deacons are headed to the national championship.
Making up ground on the leaderboard is a little easier when you have a junior stalwart like Jennifer Kupcho leading the way. Kupcho fired her third consecutive round under par at the Don Veller Seminole Golf Course in Tallahassee, Fla., and it helped pull her team up the leaderboard. Wake Forest started the day in seventh, but outscored sixth-place Clemson by 10 shots in the final round. That left the two teams tied at the end of regulation, so they went to a one-hole team playoff. Wake Forest won that when the first four players made par and Kupcho poured in a birdie.
“At one point, we were at 10-under par as a team, but gave a few back to finish at 5 under,” Wake Forest head coach Dianne Dailey said. “We were given a second chance and took advantage of it. They were clutch in the playoff and it was a total team effort.”
For the team, it means a shot at the national championship for the 15th time in program history. For Kupcho, the day ended with a second consecutive regional title. At 15-under 201 for the week, Kupcho was one shot ahead of Alabama’s Lauren Stephenson. This is Kupcho’s sixth individual victory, and it makes her only the second player in NCAA history to win a regional in back-to-back years. Maria Jose Uribe did it for UCLA in 2008-09.
“I was just fighting for the team and knew the team needed every single one of my strokes,” Kupcho said.
There was considerably less sweat at the top of the leaderboard as top-seeded Alabama went 15 under in the third round to reach 33-under 831 for the tournament. It seemed an easy victory for a team that has already won three times this season. Host Florida State finished solo second at 25 under and Furman was another seven shots behind that at 18 under. For Florida State, advancing was a significant feat considering the Seminoles were seeded No. 7. A year after missing the finals, Arizona also found its way into the national championship with an 11-under team total that was good for fourth.
As for Washington, which authored the first explosive story of this postseason when it came out of the gate with a 15-under 273 in Round 1 – headlined by Wenyung Keh with an NCAA-record 9-under 63 – it was a game of holding tight and maintaining ground. Washington’s team score steadily rose each round, but its 10-under team total was enough to get the Huskies into the postseason. They were fifth in Tallahassee, five shots out of the Wake Forest-Clemson playoff.
ROUND TWO RECAP
Alabama's Lauren Stephenson
Two-thirds of the way through NCAA Women’s Regionals, the Don Veller Seminole Golf Course in Tallahassee, Fla., has taken the hardest beating. A day after Washington went 13 under to open the postseason, two more teams went double-digits under par in a single round. Clearly, if you want to advance from Tallahassee, you’re going to need some birdies.
So far this week, the 96-player field has logged 529 of them. That’s in addition to 10 eagles. Alabama junior Lauren Stephenson came out of the gate with five birdies and no bogeys on her front nine on the way to a 3-under 69. Stephenson is leading the charge for top-seeded Alabama, a team that leap-frogged Washington after Round 1 and found its familiar spot at the top. The Crimson Tide is 18 under after 36 holes, while Washington is 14 under.
Alabama boasts maybe the best 1-2-3 punch in women’s college golf this season, and also counted rounds of 4-under 68 from sophomore Kristen Gillman and junior Cheyenne Knight. They’re part of a six-way tie for ninth at 4 under. Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho currently leads the individual race at 10 under, which included a second-round 8-under 64 that was just one shot off the NCAA record. In case you were wondering, Washington’s Wenyung Keh, who reached that record 63 in Round 1, followed with 5-over 77 on Tuesday and is part of the group tied for ninth.
Regionals is not so much about individual play as it is about team play, however. And it’s not about winning but advancing. With one round left, the top five teams on the leaderboard have clearly divided themselves by going double digits under par. After Alabama and Washington, who have all but set themselves up with a national-championship berth thanks to one stellar round, host Florida State also has much to brag about after an 11-under 277 in Round 2. Sophomore Amanda Douherty led the host team with a 6-under 66 that included five consecutive birdies from Nos. 6-10.
The Seminoles are tied at 13 under with Furman, and Clemson is only one shot back of that.
“We came out with a lot of energy today and actually the first few holes we made a couple bogeys but then they caught on fire on the back,” Florida State head coach Amy Bond said. “Again, when you move on moving day in the right direction, it’s always a good.”
Leads disappear quickly in college golf, but the real fight in the final round could be for the sixth and final advancing spot. Arizona (-5), Wake Forest (-2), UNLV (+2) and Georgia (+4) are in position to take it.
ROUND ONE RECAP
Washington's Wenyung Keh
A big part of navigating the NCAA postseason is luck, and not just the kind you might think. You need putts to drop, of course, but the NCAA Regional assignment is key, too. The closer to home, the better.
In that sense, Washington’s assignment to the regional at the Don Veller Seminole Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla., didn’t seem ideal. The Huskies are the No. 4 seed three time zones away from home – and in a lot different climate -- but they made the most of it on Monday. After one round, Washington leads by seven strokes after a remarkable 15-under 273.
After one look at the golf course, Washington head coach Mary Lou Mulflur knew her team couldn’t overthink things, even if this wasn’t their home environment. Mulflur is one of the most seasoned coaches in this game, having led her Washington team to the national title in 2016, her 33rd season coaching. This week had to be about acclimating, hydrating and playing smart.
“I describe Bermuda as being gnarly and it just can wrap around your ball quickly, making it harder to hit out of, as opposed to the flat-back grass that we typically see that can kind of just bend backwards when you hit your shot,” Mulflur said after a Sunday practice round in Tallahassee.
Washington led the field in par-4 scoring in Round 1, but it really helps the team score when one player goes nine shots into the red. That was Washington junior Wenyung Keh, of Auckland, New Zealand, whose 9-under 63 in the first round tied the NCAA Regional record. In fact, only two other players have shot that number in regional play. Amanda Blumenherst did it in 2007 for Duke and Kyung Kim shot 63 for USC in 2013.
As it turns out, a whole row of records fell Monday in Tallahassee. Washington’s team score is the best first-round NCAA Regional score since Arizona State posted this number in 2009 (note that the Sun Devils went on to win the national championship that year). In Washington record books, 273 is the best 18-hole team score to date.
As for Keh, this marks the best round of her junior years. Last month, she shot a second-round 5-under 67 at the Ping/ASU Invitational which led to a tie for second. It was her best finish in nine starts as a junior. Keh has been Washington’s leading scorer this season.
"I felt like I was playing just pretty average and wasn't hitting it especially great but it just happened,” Keh said of Monday’s round. “It's good to see the team doing well as a whole and it's good to get off to a start like that but today's in the past and tomorrow's a new game."
Furman, the Southern Conference champion, is closest to Washington after Round 1, and still within striking distance at 8-under 280. Natalie Srinivasan carried the Paladins with 7-under 65.
Top-seeded Alabama is close behind that at 6-under 282. Three teams are tied at 3 under – Clemson, Tennessee and Wake Forest – to round out the current top 6. Host Florida State, seeded seventh, is another shot back.