There isn’t anything quite like match play in golf, particularly when it occurs in the context of team competition. It’s why we like all those Cups so much, Ryder, Presidents, Solheim, Walker and Curtis, to name a few.
You just never know when you’re going to get a match like the one that led off the final of the 45th Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic Sunday at the University of Georgia Golf Course in Athens, Ga.
In one corner was Georgia’s Bailey Tardy, a sophomore from Peachtree Corners, Ga. and a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team that fell to Great Britain & Ireland in the decidedly unfriendly environs of Dun Laoghaire Golf Club outside Dublin, Ireland. In the other corner was Alabama’s Kristen Gillman, a freshman from Austin, Texas who won the 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Nassau Country Club on Long Island as a high school junior-to-be. These two have been in some high-stakes match-play situations.
Tardy was 1-down with two holes to go on the 6,300-yard, par-72 UGA layout. And she proceeded to birdie 17 and 18 to claim a 1-up victory. It set the tone for a 3.5-1.5 victory for the Bulldogs, No. 8 in the latest Golfstat rankings, over the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
The Liz Murphey has become the perfect preparation for the NCAA Championship. At nationals, if you can survive 72 holes of medal play as one of the top eight teams, you get to play one of the best eight teams in the country in a match. Win that and you have to beat another great team. The team you get in the final will have run a similar gauntlet.
There’s a lot of golf to be played between now and next month’s NCAA Championship, which will be held at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., but the teams involved in the Liz Murphey got to put a lot of valuable match-play experience in the bank this weekend.
Georgia got another key win from Mary Ellen Shuman, a senior from St. Simons Island, Ga., who pulled out a 3 and 2 win over Lauren Stephenson, a sophomore from Lexington, S.C. The match was all square when Shuman won the 10th hole with a par and the 11th with a birdie to take control of the match.
Rinko Mitsunaga, a sophomore from Roswell, Ga., saved a valuable half-point by drawing with Mia Landergren, a senior from Bridgewater, Conn. Mitsunaga was 2-down when she won the 14th with a par and the 15th with a birdie to square the match. That match would go to extra holes at Rich Harvest.
The outcome was decided so Georgia’s Harang Lee, a senior from Spain, was awarded a full point as she held a 1-up lead over Lakareber Abe, a junior from Angleton, Texas, with the 18th still to play.
Alabama’s lone full point came from Cheyenne Knight, a sophomore from Aledo, Texas who edged Jillian Hollis, a sophomore from Rocky River, Ohio, 1-up. Again, it was a matchup between two of the best players in college golf. Hollis had claimed the individual title in the Liz Murphey with a brilliant 5-under 67 in gusty winds in Friday’s match-play qualifying round.
There was good golf all over the place Sunday in Athens. No. 16 Arkansas got third place, but needed a tiebreaker after battling surprising Denver, ranked 52nd, to a 2.5-2.5 draw.
The Razorbacks’ tiebreaker advantage came via a pair of 3 and 2 victories by Cara Gorlei, a sophomore from South Africa, and Alana Uriell, a junior from Carlsbad, Calif. Gorlei defeated Lauren Whyte, a junior from Scotland, while Uriell topped Jessica Canty, a senior from Northern Ireland.
Arkansas got a crucial half-point from Kylee Benton, a sophomore from Buckeye, Ariz. who rallied from 3-down to get a draw with Sophie Newlove, a sophomore from England.
No. 40 Auburn pulled out a 3-2 win over No. 2 Southern California in the fifth-place match.
The Tigers’ Kayley Marschke, a freshman from Suwanee, Ga., was 1-down to USC veteran Victoria Morgan, a redshirt senior from Pasadena, Calif., with four holes to play. All Marschke did was birdie the rest for an eye-opening 2-up win.
Auburn also got a 2 and 1 victory from Michaela Owen, a senior from Suwanee, Ga., over Allisen Corpuz, a freshman from Honolulu, Hawaii, and 2 and 1 victory by Mai Dechathipat, a sophomore from Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla., over Muni He, a freshman from San Diego.
Give veteran Southern Cal coach Andrea Gaston credit. She brought her Trojans and their lofty ranking east against a tough field in the uncertain weather of early April and they took their lumps. But they’ll be there at the end.
No. 19 Oklahoma State grabbed seventh place with a 3-2 victory over Daytona State, the No. 1 junior college team in the country.
The Cowgirls got wins from Kenzie Neisen, a junior from New Prague, Minn., Linnea Johnson, a redshirt senior from Sweden, and Isabella Deilert, a senior from Sweden.
And that was just the Red Bracket.
The four teams that failed to finish in the top eight Friday comprised the Black Bracket and played a series of round-robin matches. No. 22 Purdue made the most of the opportunity by winning three matches, capped by a tiebreaker decision over No. 11 South Carolina Sunday after the teams battled to a 2.5-2.5 draw that made the Boilermakers the Black Bracket winner.
Nobody had to tell Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, that her 85 in Friday’s qualifying that Purdue tossed could have had something to do with the Boilermakers finishing a shot out of eighth and a berth in the Red Bracket.
Martin put her head down and won all three of her matches, capped with a 7 and 5 win over fellow Spaniard Ainhoa Olarra, a junior at South Carolina. Martin also had match wins in the Boilermakers’ 3-2 win over No. 89 Troy and 3-2 decision over No. 89 Old Dominion Saturday. Martin’s decisive margin of victory over Olarra gave Purdue the tiebreaker advantage over the Gamecocks.
I didn’t get the match I wanted at the top as Purdue’s August Kim, the reigning Big Ten champion from St. Augustine, Fla., didn’t hook up with South Carolina’s Katelyn Dambaugh, a senior from Goose Creek, S.C. who was the runnerup to UCLA’s Bronte Law in voting for the Annika Award last year. But that’s OK.
Kim earned a half-point with a draw with Jia Xin Yang, a senior from China. Dambaugh picked up a full point for South Carolina with a 6 and 4 victory over Linn Andersson, a junior from Sweden.
South Carolina’s Marion Veysseyre, a sophomore from France, swept all three of her weekend matches. The Gamecocks claimed a 4-1 win over Old Dominion and a 3-2 victory over Troy Saturday.
Troy edged Old Dominion, 3-2, in the other Black Bracket match Sunday.