Courtesy of Stanford Athletics
With two of the top female amateurs in the world in its lineup, the Stanford Cardinal can make the game of golf look ridiculously easy at times.
Such was the case at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, where Stanford won the Gunrock Invitational by setting an NCAA 54-hole scoring record at 50-under par. Sophomore Rachel Heck
notched her eighth career collegiate victory with an 18-under par score of 198, earning a four-shot win over teammate Rose Zhang
Where to begin?
The Cardinal opened the tournament with a 23-under score of 265 in its morning round on Monday, shattering the school's 18-holes scoring record by 10 strokes. Stanford followed up in the afternoon by turning in an 11-under 277, which tied for the fifth-best round in school history and at 34-under 542, Stanford established a new 36-hole school record by nine strokes.
Heck took control of the tournament from the onset, firing rounds of 63 and 68 on the par-72, 6067-yard Del Paso layout, setting a 36-hole school-record for an individual at 13-under 131.
With an 18-stroke lead over Washington heading into the final round, the only questions that remained on Tuesday were how low could the Cardinal go and whether Heck or Zhang, separated by just three strokes at the start of the day, would win the individual title.
In a head-to-head battle between the top two female amateurs in the world, Heck fired a 5-under 67 to Zhang's 68 to take medalist honors with an 18-under score of 198, which established a new school record for a 54-hole event and just missed tying the NCAA record by one stroke.
With five birdies on her Tuesday card, Heck ran her birdie total to 22 for the 54-hole event and finished at 18-under 198 while Zhang's 14-under 202 was the fourth-lowest mark in school history.
All eight of Heck's wins have come in the last 365 days, as her first career win at the 2021 Gunrock Invitational came on March 2, 2021.
"It's great to see the Rachel Heck that we had here last spring," said Stanford head coach Anne Walker. "She's so happy. She's hitting every shot very loose and confident and relaxed. She's having a great time with the game. To see her get her eighth win today, and I know there's plenty more ahead, I'm excited to be part of this."
As for Zhang?
"It says it all when she's disappointed with the way she played and still finishes with the fourth-best tournament score in school history," said Walker of Zhang, whose round was highlighted by an albatross on the 535-yard 15th hole.
"It speaks volumes about who she is as a player that she can come out here with her B game and still be right on Rachel's heels until the end. She's got great things ahead of her."
As Heck and Zhang battled for the individual title, Stanford's supporting cast of Sadie Englemann
(68), Carolina Sturdza
(69) and Aline Krauter
(72) were doing their part to ensure Stanford's place in history. Englemann grabbed a fourth-place finish while Sturdza and Krauter tied for 16th.
The Cardinal's counting four accounted for a final round of 16-under 272 to put the wraps on a 50-under performance, shattering LSU's previous mark by four strokes.
With a final round of 272, the Cardinal set an NCAA scoring record for a 54-hole event at 50-under 814, while its 35-stroke win over Washington was its largest in school history. In six team events this season, Stanford has claimed five full-field victories and had five individual winners (Zhang 3; Heck 2).
"I don't even have words for this," said Walker. "It's so exciting and this team deserves it. We have so many great players top to bottom so to come here and set this record, I'm excited for them, excited for Del Paso the course. I don't have great words for it but I'm really proud of them.
"It feels great to bounce back after San Diego State. It felt like we were a little rusty coming out of the break. I believe in the system that we have in place. These kids are really strong. Not only are they talented, they're fighters. Sometimes you're fighting for a 65 and sometimes you're fighting for a 75, but when you have a lot of fight in you good things are going to happen."
There aren't too many things Mark Lou Mulflur hasn't seen in her 38 seasons as head coach at Washington, but she just witnessed her team shoot 15-under and finish second by 35 strokes.
"We had a solid finish this week, and certainly could have played better," said Mulflur. "I'm excited about the competition within the team and the way they bring out the best in each other. We're looking forward to building on this momentum."
With Heck and Zhang staging their own duel in the sun, University of San Francisco's Riana Mission
finished in third place at 11-under 205. Her 67 on Tuesday matched Heck for the low round of the day.
Stanford will return to action on Monday as it joins the field at the Juli Inkster Invitational at the Meadow Club, an Alister Mackenzie-designed gem in Fairfax, Calif.
Stanford and Washington Athletic Communications contributed to this report.