- Michigan State women's golf photo
The Michigan State Spartans marveled in their third conference championship since 2017, and Nebraska’s Kate Smith bested the rest in a tournament-best final round at TPC River’s Bend.
Michigan State’s team title at the 2021 Big Ten Championship was crowned by an outright 11-under domination, while Smith displayed a last-minute all-out offensive in her third round, finishing 9-under to claim the first Big Ten individual conference title in Nebraska’s history.
The Spartans stole the show early on with the help of freshman Leila Raines, who shot a first-round 3-under 69. She was the only player to shoot a round in the 60s on the first day of the tournament, allowing her and Michigan State to take the lead. The Spartans narrowly escaped the first round at 2-under with a one-shot lead ahead of Maryland.
Day two saw the Terrapins catching up to Michigan State to tie it up. A huge effort by Maryland’s Laura Van Respaille in the form of a second-round 69 gave the senior the solo lead, and fifth-year Xiaolin Tian matched her efforts with a 69 of her own to tie for third.
But it was a Valery Plata takeover that would lead the Spartans’ charge to victory past the Terrapins in the final two rounds. Plata posted a pair of 68s to anchor Michigan State to its third conference championship in four years, finishing up tied for third. Behind her, Paz Marfa Sans’ final round 70 aided mightily, giving the graduate student a top-10 at eighth.
Along the way, Nebraska’s Smith was forming a takeover of her own, her final 18 the most stunning performance of all.
Ahead of the trip to Maineville, the graphic design major re-designed the TPC River’s Bend logo to feature a women’s golfer. She’d eventually bring the silhouette to life in a commanding final round.
In the first two rounds, Smith put herself in an excellent position to attack; a 72-71 kept her in the top-10 mix. Entering the day at 1-under and four strokes behind the lead, she outshone the rest and quickly took the individual lead with four birdies on the front nine. Van Respaille started on top of the leaderboard at 5-under, her lead vanishing as two back-to-back bogeys on No. 6 and 7 initiated a rocky round of 74 that took her down to 3-under overall.
Four more birdies and a bogey-free round later, Smith finished up with a 64 at 9-under overall, three strokes ahead of Northwestern’s Irene Kim, whose round of 67 put her at 6-under and became the closest attempt to challenge Smith’s impressive win.
The fifth-year Husker’s final conference championship bow left head coach Lisa Johnson in pure awe.
“Kate’s bogey-free round of 64 left us all speechless,” Johnson told Huskers Athletics.
ABOUT THE Big Ten Women's Championship
54-hole stroke-play event to decide the women's
the Big 10 Conference. Team (best four scores out
six players each round) and individual competitions.
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