What a show.
If you didn’t tune in Wednesday to Golf Channel for the finale of the NCAA Women’s Golf Championship, which aired in prime time on the East Coast, you missed arguably the most compelling sporting event of the month and one of the most dramatic championships in amateur golf history. (SEE FINAL MATCH RESULTS AND VIDEO)
The final matches between Stanford and Washington broke the excite-o-meter. It ranked with Tiger Woods vs. Steve Scott in the 1996 U.S. Amateur. And people will be talking about it for just as long.
The only thing that could have made Wednesday’s final any better would have been more people in the gallery. But, like most college events, this championship played out in front of friends and family members with more watching at home, including some unlikely fans.
Womens NCAA golf championship btw Stanford and Washington much more exciting than Game 5 of Cavs – Raptors…
— Michael Wilbon (@RealMikeWilbon) May 26, 2016
— Norah O’Donnell (@NorahODonnell) May 26, 2016
Julianne Alvarez, a freshman from New Zealand who grew up playing alongside Lydia Ko, hit a pitch shot to within 5 inches on the 20th hole of her match with Stanford’s Lauren Kim to seal the victory for Washington after two hours of edge-of-your-seat drama.
The lead see-sawed back and forth, with Stanford up in two of the five matches, Washington up in two and one all square, although no match was a runaway.
Things shifted on the back nine as Washington senior Charlotte Thomas, who was 4 down to Shannon Aubert early, clawed her way back before losing, 2 and 1.
Mariah Stackhouse also had a commanding lead on Washington freshman Sarah Rhee, who had holed a bunker shot for birdie in the semifinals to get Washington into the championship match. But Rhee also came roaring back with birdies on 15, 16 and 17 to square that match.
Then, standing in the 18th fairway, Stackhouse and Rhee watched as Washington’s Ying Luo hit what everyone assumed would be the shot of the championship. After laying up to 61 yards from a fairway bunker, Luo clipped a perfect pitch shot. The ball took one hop and spun into the hole for a birdie and a 1-up victory against Casey Danielson.
It looked as though that would lock up Washington’s first NCAA golf championship (men’s or women’s) and the first championship of any kind since the Huskies softball team won in 2009. Washington had 2 points to Stanford’s 1 (the second coming when Wenyung Keh beat Sierra Kersten, 4 and 3) and Alvarez was dormie 3 against Kim.
But then Kim came back with two birdies and a par, squaring her match after Alvarez, who had 30 feet for birdie on 18, three-putted to send the anchor match into overtime.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) May 26, 2016
Stackhouse and Rhee went extra holes as well with Stackhouse winning with a par on the 20th. That set up the final drama as Alvarez, who hit a wayward tee shot on 18 (the 20th hole of the match) laid up 30 yards short and almost pitched it in the hole. Kim hit her approach long and chipped to 12 feet. After consulting with her coach on the line, Kim hit a good putt that skirted the high side.
“This is what we talked about all year and here we are,” said Washington coach Mary Lou Mulflur, who is in her 33rd season with the Huskies. “It was our turn. I couldn’t be any more proud.”
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 26, 2016
“I feel like nobody lost today,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said afterward. “The quality of the golf was incredible. Washington just played a little better and won it. They deserve it. But no one has anything to be ashamed of.”
On that point, Walker was exactly right. There might be a more exciting finish to a golf tournament at some point this year. But the bar has been set very high.