Maria Fassi and Arkansas are trying to recapture their momentum (UofA photo)
STILLWATER, OK (May 20, 2018) – When the cuts start falling on national-championship week, the pressure begins. Maybe Arkansas needed a little of that pressure to light the fire this week, or maybe they’ve just finally figured out this Karsten Creek layout. Either way, the #2 team in the nation looked like itself on Sunday for the first time since this championship began.
“You can’t panic,” said head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor. “They’ve played great golf all year. We put ourselves in a hole and it’s time to go dig ourselves out of it.”
Arkansas came into this week with seven victories, but went 20 over in the opening round and dove to T-16 on the leaderboard. Junior Maria Fassi, a strong player-of-the-year candidate, didn’t break 80. It was like the twilight zone. Even Fassi, the engine behind this team, couldn’t explain it – then, or three days later. There was an inexplicable lack of momentum, but Fassi tried to keep the faith.
“I know my game didn’t go away,” she said.
Arkansas has steadily decreased its score over the past two rounds, but was never truly part of the conversation until late in the third round. The Razorbacks posted 1-over 289, the third-lowest team score of the day, and climbed five spots into 11th.
The third round is about the cut to the top 15 teams, but in her head, Estes-Taylor skipped right over that step.
“The heck with 15, I’m looking at eight. How can we get there?” Estes-Taylor said, referencing the fourth-round cut to the top eight teams for the start of match play.
Fassi, for one, is moving in the right direction. She posted 1-over 73 in the final round. Alanna Uriell posted 3-under 69 and became the first Arkansas player to post a score under par for this week.
Team meetings have been intense in Stillwater, and “involved a lot of cuss words,” Fassi said. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get back on track.
Part of what contributed to Arkansas’ early-tournament falter was aggressive play. Big numbers put Arkansas behind the eight ball right away, and the strokes added up. Even on Sunday, as junior Dylan Kim played into the ninth hole with the rest of her team beside the green watching (the Razorbacks started on No. 10), Estes-Taylor had to talk her out of hitting her approach with a 3-wood from 235 yards out on a slope. Kim had already taken an unplayable after her drive went left into the trees off the tee. She made what Estes-Taylor called a “disciplined bogey.”
“They get a little frustrated and they try to press,” Estes-Taylor said. “You can’t press on a championship golf course.”
At least until it means survival. Arkansas needs another strong day to make match play, which may mean changing the game plan late in the day.
“We might have to step on it a little bit, but I think our games are good enough to put us in that position,” she said.
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The beauty of adding this match-play format is that it allows different teams a shot at a national title. Find your way into the top 8, then it’s anyone’s game. Sometimes that means top teams are on the outside looking in.
For the past three seasons, Alabama had been that team. The Crimson Tide posted 4-under 284 on Sunday, the round of the day, and gave themselves an 8-shot cushion over second-place UCLA. Twenty-nine shots separate Alabama from Kent State, eighth on the leaderboard.
“It’s a lot better feeling,” Alabama head coach Mic Potter said of this year compared to squeaking into the top 15 in past seasons. “Then you’ve got to talk about ‘you can still do this, we’ve got to go out there and fight as hard as we can and we can’t waste any shots’ kind of thing to, ‘hey, you all are good players, let’s shoot as low as we can and build momentum and gain confidence’ going into the match-play portion.”
That’s the spot teams like Texas (13th on the leaderboard), Washington (14th) and Louisville (15th) find themselves in after Round 3. It took a 54-hole total of 39 over to reach a scorecard playoff for the 15th and final spot. Louisville ultimately lived to see the fourth round courtesy of its cumulative non-counting score. That meant Auburn, Arizona State and Wake Forest were done for the week.
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Wake Forest will now cheer on its star Jennifer Kupcho, who is tied for the individual lead with Alabama’s Cheyenne Knight. Both players are 7 under. Kupcho has finished T-6, T-2 at the past two national championships.
“When she gets her game face on, she's focused and really goes after it,” Wake Forest head coach Dianne Dailey said. “She's so capable, I think she has an excellent chance. I think she's thinking about last year
and she wants to make up for that."
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
Division I women's golf.
After 72 holes of stroke play, the individual
champion is crowned, and the low 8 teams advance
match play to determine the team champion.
View Complete Tournament Information