Bronte Law won the Annika Award that goes to the best player in college golf as a junior at UCLA last spring. The native of England then turned pro halfway through this season. So, the Bruins basically lost the best player in college golf. Devastating, right?
Uh, apparently not. OK, I’m overstating it a little. Golf’s a little different than other sports. You lose the best player in the country halfway through the season and there’s somebody waiting in the wings.
That person would be Lilia Vu, a sophomore from Fountain Valley, Calif. who was a pretty good player for the Bruins as a freshman a year ago. But Vu is playing at a different level right now. She seemed to be playing a different golf course than the rest of the field in the Pac-12 Championship, which concluded Wednesday at Sewailo Golf Club in Tucson, Ariz.
If there weren’t a thousand tournaments going on this week, I would have tried to do a daily post on the Pac-12 tourney. Even if I had, though, the story would have still been the same: Lilia Vu and UCLA, No. 3 in the latest Golfstat rankings. With the NCAA regional fields about to be announced Thursday at 11 a.m. on The Golf Channel, though, I wanted to get something in from the Pac-12 Championship.
Vu opened with a 1-under-par 71 over the 6,583-yard, par-72 Sewailo layout that seemed to play particularly tough the first day. She then ripped off a 6-under 66 in the middle round that was three shots better than anybody in this ridiculously talented field would shoot the entire tournament. Vu finished up with an even-par 72 Wednesday for a 7-under 209 that was six shots clear of the field. It was Vu’s fourth straight victory in stroke-play competition.
It was six shots clear, to be a little more specific, of her teammate Mariel Galdiano, a freshman in name only from Pearl City, Hawaii. Galdiano was a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that lost to Law and Great Britain & Ireland outside of Dublin last summer. She was the qualifying medalist at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club last summer. I watched nearly every shot of the effortless 6-under 65 she shot in the second round at the William Flynn gem.
After a pair of 1-over 73s in the first two rounds, Galdiano carded a 3-under 69 to claim runnerup honors at 1-under 215.
The 1-2 finish by Vu and Galdiano enabled UCLA to finish as the only team under par at 2-under 862, as the Bruins rolled to a 21-shot victory in the team chase. After opening with a 2-over 290, again on a day when the course was at its toughest, the Bruins added a 3-under 285 in the middle round and finished up with a 1-under 287, a score matched in the final round by only No. 7 Southern California.
No. 21 Colorado nosed out No. 2 Stanford for second, the Buffalos finishing at 19-over 803, one shot better than the Cardinal’s 20-over 804 total. Colorado was at its best in a 2-under 286 in the second round, but couldn’t sustain its momentum, posting a final-round 301. Stanford looked a little more like Stanford in the final round with a 2-over 290.
No. 14 Arizona finished fourth at 887 after a final round of 1-over 289, Southern Cal was fifth at 894 after beating par in the final round and No. 5 Arizona State was sixth at 895 after a final-round 296. And oh yeah, No. 42 Washington -- the Huskies are only the defending national champions -- was seventh at 901 after a final round of 301.
UCLA had two other players in the top 15 as Bethany Wu, a sophomore from Diamond Bar, Calif. and another 2016 U.S. Curtis Cupper, finished tied for 11th at 6-over 222 despite a final-round 81. Wu opened with rounds of 71 and 70. Erin Choi, a junior from Torrance, Calif., was another shot behind Wu at 223 and finished alone in 14th. She had a final round of even-par 72.
Clare Legaspi, a freshman from the Philippines, finished tied for 38th at 232. But she came up big in the final round when Wu struggled by shooting a 2-over 74. It’s called teamwork and good teams always have it.
Stanford’s Andrea Lee, a freshman from Hermosa Beach, Calif. and … wait for it … yet another member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team, finished tied for third, two shots behind Galdiano at 1-over 217. Lee, No. 6 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, was 2-under after rounds of 72 and 70 before falling back with a 3-over 75 in the final round.
She was joined at 217 by Arizona State’s Linnea Strom, a sophomore from Sweden who is No. 10 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Strom finished strong with a 3-under 69 to get her share of third.
Arizona teammates Haley Moore, a sophomore from Escondido, Calif., and Krystal Quihuis, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., shared fifth place at 3-over 219. Both struggled in the first round, Moore with a 78 and Quihuis with a 77. But Moore fired a 3-under 69 in the middle round and matched par Wednesday with a 72 while Quihuis had matching 1-under 71s in rounds 2 and 3.
Colorado’s Brittany Fan, a junior from that apparent golf hotbed of Pearl City, Hawaii, and Southern Cal’s Tiffany Chan, a senior from Hong Kong, finished tied for seventh at 4-over 220. Fan finished up with a 2-over 74 and Chan sandwiched a 2-under 70 in the middle round with a pair of 75s.
The good news for Stanford was the return to the lineup of Albane Valenzuela, a freshman from Switzerland and the No. 4 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Albane had steady rounds of 74, 76 and 72 to finish tied for 11th at 6-over 222.
Valenzuela was invited to play in the ANA Inspiration, the LPGA’s first major of the year, but an injury prevented her from teeing it up. She was out of the lineup at the Silverado Showdown at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif. earlier this month, but the Cardinal barely missed her while beating UCLA by nine shots for the team title. In one round of the Silverado, all five Stanford players broke par.
You could argue that none of it really mattered. A lot of these teams will hear their names called when the regional fields are announced Thursday morning.
But UCLA gets to hoist a Pac-12 championship banner from arguably the best women’s golf conference in the land. And well, Vu and the Bruins are certainly playing some pretty golf going into the NCAA portion of the show.