Arizona's winning team (Arizona Athletics photo)
With another year of college golf in the books, we took a look back at the major storylines from 2018:
Indy closes the gap between divisions
Sometimes Division II gets lost in the shuffle, but when teams like Indianapolis do things like win a national title by 38 shots, well it’s worth taking notice. The Hounds are raising the bar in D-II golf and pulling their opponents up with them. Indy’s national title, its second in the past four years, was its 11th team title of the 2017-18 season. One of those was in a Division I field, which shows that there’s considerable crossover between divisions.
The round that put us on alert this season belonged to Sierra Brooks
, the Florida sophomore who went 17 under in 36 holes at the Cougar Classic. Brooks did a short, injury-plagued stint at Wake Forest right out of high school but is back in her native Florida. Her 10-under 62 (she reached 10 under by her 14th hole, putting us on a legitimate 59 watch) gives some idea about what she’s capable of at this level. We last truly saw Brooks in form in 2015, when she won the South Atlantic Amateur and was runner-up at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Arguably, there’s more drama during NCAA regional week than at the national championship. If your team doesn’t show up with its best game, you could be sitting at home during the NCAA finals. It’s high-stress for everyone involved, and a mysterious illness at the Austin, Texas regional
this spring made it even more so.
Five players withdrew from the tournament in the final two rounds, including three players from East Carolina. Even coaches fell sick, enough that a few had to leave the course. Baylor’s resolve was perhaps the most impressive, considering that the Bears to advance even after one player withdrew and another continued to play on despite being ill. Strange circumstances, indeed.
A summer of coaching shakeups
There’s always a fair amount of movement among college coaches during the summer, but the number – and strength – of programs involved in this summer’s shakeup was particularly noteworthy. The biggest move was undoubtedly USC stalwart Andrea Gaston’s transition from Los Angeles to Texas A&M. Gaston had won three national titles in 22 seasons at USC.
Other notable moves included Virginia’s Kim Lewellen to Wake Forest (after the retirement of longtime coach Dianne Dailey), Oregon’s Ria Scott to Virginia, and Arizona assistant Derek Radley to Oregon. USC promoted Justin Silverstein, who had done stints as an assistant for USC’s men’s and women’s programs, to replace Gaston. Silverstein was successful in rallying a squad of young returners to win three times in the fall.
Should I stay or should I go?
The spotlight was on transfers for a few reasons this past season. For one, transfers played a crucial role in some of the year’s most successful team. The Arkansas squad that won seven times – including at the SEC Championship and an NCAA Regional – featured two transfers in Dylan Kim (Baylor) and Kaylee Benton (UNLV). Arizona only got into match play courtesy of that memorable eagle putt from Gonzaga transfer Bianca Pagdanganan, and Alabama’s runner-up squad featured Clemson transfer Lauren Stephenson.
The NCAA took the next step in making that process easier by establishing a national transfer database. If a school needs a transfer (re: the players who decided to bail early for the LPGA), now there’s a one-stop shop to find one. Clearly, there are pros and cons to the new system.
Prayers for Celia
The death of Iowa State fifth-year senior Celia Barquin Arozamena
rocked women’s golf on all levels in September. Barquin Arozamena, 22, was months removed from a European Ladies Amateur victory, and was finishing her degree in Ames, Iowa, before moving on to a professional career. She was tragically murdered while playing a round of golf alone while her team was on the road.
Barquin’s death made us question our sense of safety on the golf course. It made her friends, teammates and all of college golf want to honor her memory. Yellow hats and ribbons – Barquin Arozamena’s favorite color – appeared everywhere from college golf to the professional tours for the next several weeks.
Arizona’s unlikely NCAA romp
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.
The quick version of Arizona’s championship story
goes like this: A lock to make match play through 54 holes, a long shot to make match play after 71 holes, hole a 25-foot eagle putt to force a team playoff, win a team playoff for the No. 8 seed, knock off the No. 1 seed, knock off the No. 5 seed (which was Stanford, the team notoriously good at match play) and win the championship in extra holes with a clutch par.
It was excellent theater for a team with a first-semester freshman, a transfer and no real headliner.
Jennifer Kupcho gets it done at NCAAs
You can’t often say that a player is overdue for a national title, but last spring, Kupcho was. As a Wake Forest junior, Kupcho became the school’s first NCAA champion last spring
after two close calls. Kupcho was T-6 as a freshman then gave it away as a sophomore when she blew a two-shot lead with a triple bogey at No. 17. At Karsten Creek in May, Kupcho cruised to a two-shot victory, assured she’d be back for her senior season and then made good on her promise. Kupcho could be on the LPGA this spring but has deferred the LPGA card she earned with a second-place finish at the LPGA Q-Series.
Speaking of Q-Series…
Other teams weren’t so lucky as to keep their stars. In what has become one of the biggest recurring storylines in women’s college golf, a handful of players are gone come the spring season after earning LPGA status. Sure, the LPGA added a deferment option, but Alabama’s sickeningly talented squad will still lose its top two players, Kristen Gillman and Lauren Stephenson. UCLA star Lilia Vu is also gone. In Kupcho’s corner, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi also chose to defer (a smart move considering that the Razorbacks host the NCAA Championship this fall). Colorado’s Robyn Choi and Ohio State’s Jaclyn Lee remain undecided.
For Alabama, what could have been
Here’s why those Alabama losses are so devastating. The Tide was clearly the team to beat after winning the Annika Invitational, which pulls together perhaps the best field of the fall season. The next week, Alabama went 45 under over 54 holes to set a new NCAA scoring record (by four shots!) in relation to par and win the Schooner Classic.
"This team is so good that you don't even realize what they're doing when it's happening," Alabama head coach Mic Potter said at the time.
It’s criminal that we won’t get to see that
squad perform in the championship season.