Stanford's winning team (Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications)
A Stanford education is not for the faint of heart or those light on work ethic. So when Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said that he pushed this year’s Cardinal team harder than any team before, one can imagine it was an intense year. Whatever that means in Ray’s camp, it paid off. Stanford won the national title on Wednesday morning to cap a five-tournament winning streak that turned a somewhat slow season into a glittering one.
In Fayetteville, the championship match was moved to the near-dawn hour. The first match was off the first tee at Blessings Golf Club by 6:45 a.m. CT so that play could finish before severe weather moved through the area. It barely did.
Ultimately, Stanford swept the first three matches to go out on Wednesday. The most-watched point came from Stanford senior Isaiah Salinda. His 4-and-3 defeat of Cole Hammer – the second match out – was somewhat symbolic. The Texas freshman had blitzed his opponents in the previous two match-play rounds, which is particularly remarkable considering that he faced NCAA individual champion Matthew Wolff on Tuesday afternoon.
Salinda, a U.S. Amateur quarterfinalist and the Pacific Coast Amateur champion, and Hammer, also a U.S. quarterfinalist plus the Western Amateur champion, were arguably the two most heralded players in the final match-ups.
“I was excited. I wanted to play him really bad,” Salinda said. “I have the most respect for his game. He is one of the best players in college as a freshman. It was fun to go against him and happy to come out on top.”
The middle of the Texas lineup included Hammer plus two other freshmen, twins Parker and Pierceson Coody. Parker Coody, in the fourth match out against Stanford freshman Daulet Tuleubayev, gave Texas a point with a 6-and-4 victory.
Brandon Wu and Henry Shimp earned Stanford's final two points for the Cardinal’s first win in the match-play era. It is also Ray’s second as a coach (2007) after winning in 1994 as a player.
With Wednesday’s schedule change for weather, Stanford effectively tore its way through the eight-team match-play bracket over a period of 26 hours. There wasn't a lot of time to be tired, especially with the adrenaline pumping, but fitness certainly came into play.
“Endurance is a big part of it. It’s hard to stay focused that whole time, especially on this course,” Ray said. “It’s demanding with the turnaround, and we were down early. Our guys hung in there and pushed above Texas. Isaiah (Salinda) and Brandon’s (Wu) leadership is huge. They were rock solid all year, so we leaned on them a lot. They left a strong legacy of leadership. I’m happy they could end their career like this because they are a huge part of our success.”
Stanford loses those men at the end of this week.
“It’s crazy, you can’t script a better ending to your career,” Wu said. “This whole week, we knew that every round could be our last so to end on a high note is great. It was definitely tough, but I think we work out really hard. We’ve tried our best all year to stay as fit as possible and I think it really paid off with the quick turnaround. Obviously, everyone is tired so it’s about staying tough mentally and knowing that everyone is digging deep.”
Before its home event in March, the 28-team Goodwin, Stanford’s win percentage was below .500 (teams are not eligible for the postseason without a winning record). With such a large home-field event coming up – plus the Western Intercollegiate near home the next month – Stanford was guaranteed a few head-to-head wins. They got that and more.
Ray set his lineup a little differently for the Goodwin. Stanford won by seven shots. Victories at the Western Intercollegiate, Pac-12 Championship and NCAA Stanford Regional followed. He left the same men in the game, and they continued to win. He used that starting five in Fayetteville.
Ray felt the momentum shift a little earlier in the year, though – when Stanford finished third, four off the pace, at the Southern Highlands Collegiate.
“We didn’t win in Vegas, but we played really well,” Ray said of that event. “It was against a strong field. I felt like the momentum shifted and from that moment forward, they didn’t look back. Just so proud of these guys. We battled all week. It is the longest week in golf and to play that fine Texas team and to do what we did today, I can’t say more about my guys.”
As for Texas, consider the Longhorns the heir apparent in college golf. They lose only senior Steven Chervony, the man who clinched the team’s finals berth in near-darkness, and return three freshmen, including Hammer. Oklahoma State, the team Texas toppled in the semifinals, loses all but one player for next year. Zach Bauchou and Hayden Wood graduate while Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff, per Golf Channel reporting
, are set to turn professional.
“I've watched the NCAAs on TV for the last four or five years and I knew I wanted to be here, and coming here to Texas, I knew I would have that opportunity, and Coach prepared us all year long just for this very moment,” Hammer said. “It stings right now but it's been a great experience.”
ABOUT THE NCAA Division I Championship
30 teams and 6 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.
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