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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Washington-Stanford was the best show in prime time

   I decided to spend a day thinking about what to say about the drama that resulted in Washington’s remarkable 3-2 victory over Stanford that gave the Huskies their first NCAA Division golf crown and denied the Cardinal a second straight title.
   A funny thing happened Thursday morning. When ESPN SportsCenter flipped from looping its late West Coast broadcast to the beginning of a new day of live SportsCenter at 7 a.m., the first thing they showed, the very first thing, was highlights of Washington’s victory.
   Before LeBron and the Cavs beating up on the Raptors, before whatever all-important NFL OTA they were going to cover four months before the regular season starts. Before everything. Women’s college golf.
   It was the right choice, too, because the finish was that compelling. I know Paige Mackenzie, the Washington alum who does a really nice job on The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive” show, was pumped in the moments following the victory for the Huskies. But it wasn’t just because it was her Huskies who had won it all, but that women’s college golf had put on such a tremendous show – again. Just as it had a year ago when Stanford was on the winning side of a similarly dramatic 3-2 win over Baylor.
   Clearly, the decision to join the men in staging a match-play finish has been validated. Match play might be the most unfair format in the most unfair game ever invented, but it can be great theater, particularly in a team format. It’s why we love the Ryder Cup so much.
   You can’t beat the pure drama of Washington’s Ying Luo, a freshman from China, desperately trying to hold on to a 1-up lead on Stanford’s Casey Danielson, a junior from Osceola, Wis., on the final hole, holing out her approach from 60 yards away for a birdie to win the match.
   Or Washington’s Julianne Alvarez, a freshman from New Zealand, having a five-footer on the 18th hole to defeat Stanford’s Lauren Kim, a senior from Los Altos, Calif., to win the national championship – and missing it.
   And then gathering herself and getting a half on the first extra hole, despite a poor drive, and then delivering a chip to gimme range on the second extra hole that ultimately redeemed her from that missed putt on the 18th.
   Stanford’s Stackhouse, a senior from Riverdale, Ga., gutted out a win over Sarah Ree, a freshman from Seattle, on the 20th hole, showing the same kind of grit and determination that gave the Cardinal the title in 2015.
   It was interesting to follow the entire women’s postseason and see players like Stackhouse and Kim quietly keeping the Cardinal together because they knew the biggest battles were still to come. Stanford was ranked 12th by Golfstat going into the NCAA Championship, but those rankings were based on performance. Heart wasn’t factored in. And experience still matters.
   Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain how Washington’s Charlotte Thomas, a senior from England, and her four freshmen teammates managed to pull this off. But those four freshmen, Luo, Ree, Alvarez and Wenyung Kim, will have the experience they just went through in the bank for three more years.
   Turned out the best reality TV in prime time Wednesday night was Washington vs. Stanford in the match-play final of the NCAA Division I Championship in women’s golf.

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