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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Lee, Valenzuela have Stanford on track in NCAA Championship



   There had to be some eye-rolling among Stanford head coach Anne Walker’s colleagues when she appeared on the NCAA Championship selection show a couple of weeks ago on The Golf Channel.
   Walker was talking about her freshmen coming along as if they were a bunch of wide-eyed kids who were going to be exposed to the big time for the first time when the NCAA regionals got under way. It’s coach speak. You always talk about your freshmen that way.
   The reality is two of Walker’s freshmen, Andrea Lee of Hermosa Beach, Calif. and Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland, are two of the best amateur players in the world. The Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking says so, Lee is No. 8 and Valenzuela No. 3 in the latest edition.
   These two have been around. Lee was a member of the U.S. Curtis Cup team that fell to Great Britain & Ireland at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club outside of Dublin last year. She lost in the U.S. Girls’ Junior final to South Korea’s Eun Jeong Seong and then two weeks later in the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Rolling Green Golf Club, she fell again to Seong in the quarterfinals, 1-up.
   Seong became the first player ever to win the Girls’ Junior and the U.S. Amateur in the same year. She is a strong player. But I watched a lot of that quarterfinal match at Rolling Green. Lee isn’t very big, but she isn’t backing down from anyone. She competes relentlessly.
   Valenzuela finished tied for 21st against a field largely comprised of professional golfers in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last summer. Lee and Valenzuela represented their respective countries at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship in Mexico.
   So yeah, they’re freshmen, but they’ve been on some big stages.
   While a lot of really good teams were struggling with the difficult conditions during the first two rounds of the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., Lee and Valenzuela helped the Cardinal, which has been in the final match each of the last two years, move into solid position to finish among the top eight teams that will commence with match play after Monday’s third round.
   Stanford, ranked No. 1 in the latest Golfstat rankings, and Northwestern, which holds an eight-shot lead on the field, both shot 10-over-par 298 over the 6,343-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout Sunday. That leaves Stanford, which carded a 311 in dreadful conditions in Friday’s opening round, alone in third place at 33-over 609.
   No. 12 Northwestern, which opened with a 301, is ahead of the pack at 23-over 599. No. 14 Kent State added a 304 to its opening-round 303, and is in second place at 607.
   Then comes Stanford at 609. Lee carded a 1-under 71 Sunday after opening with a 77 to move into a tie for sixth in the individual standings at 4-over 148. Valenzuela added a 1-over 73 to her opening-round 77 and is tied for 10th at 150.
   The Cardinal have two wonderful veterans of those last two runs to the final match at the NCAA Championships that resulted in a national championship two years ago and a runnerup finish a year ago.
   Casey Danielson, a senior from Osceola, Wis., carded a 75 Sunday and is tied for 40th at 155. Shannon Aubert, a junior from Stuart, Fla., had an 81 and is tied for 69th at 158. Another freshman, Madie Chou of Santa Ana, Calif., gave Stanford the luxury of tossing Aubert’s 81 with a 79 Sunday that left her tied for 97th at 163.
   Drenching rains left Rich Harvest Farms unplayable Saturday, which forced tournament officials to shorten the individual championship and the qualifying for match play from 72 holes to 54 holes. The cut to 15 teams that was supposed to happen after round 3 was abandoned. There is very little margin for error and it is going to turn Monday’s final round into a mad scramble.
   No. 25 Ohio State is a shot behind Stanford in fourth place at 610 as the Buckeyes were the only other team to break 300 with a second-round 299. No. 17 Baylor is fifth at 611 after posting a solid 300, No. 11 South Carolina is sixth at 613 after also carding a 300, No. 6 Southern California is seventh at 618 after a 303 and No. 13 Miami is eighth at 619 after also coming in with a 303.
   That’s your top eight after two rounds. There a lot of good teams not far outside the cut line for match play.
   No. 7 Arizona State, coming off a rampaging win in the Lubbock Regional, and Big 12 champion Texas are tied for ninth at 620, No. 24 Purdue is 11th at 621, Southeastern Conference champion Florida, ranked third, is 12th at 622, and former Radnor standout Brynn Walker and North Carolina, ranked 35th, are 13th at 624.
   No. 8 Duke, the ACC champion, and No. 2 Alabama have a lot of ground to make up, probably too much. Duke is tied for 17th at 634. Alabama is 21st at 641.
   Northwestern, denied a Big Ten title by a final-round surge Michigan State, is playing the best golf of anybody.
   The Wildcats are being led by Stephanie Lau, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif. who is tied for eighth at 5-over 149 after adding a 74 to her opening-round 75. Kacie Komoto, a senior from Honolulu, Hawaii, is playing like a senior who knows when it really matters. She matched par with a 72 Sunday and is tied for 10th at 150.
   Janet Mao, a sophomore from Johns Corner, Ga., is also in the group tied for 10th at 150 after slipping back to a 77 following a really strong 1-over 73 in Friday’s cold, windy, rainy weather. Hannah Kim, a junior from Chula Vista, Calif., was the Big Ten Player of the Year in her first two seasons in Evanston. She is tied for 23rd at 153, although the Wildcats tossed her second-round 78. Sarah Cho, a junior from San Diego, is also in the group tied for 23rd at 153 after a solid 3-over 75.
   The individual national champion will also be crowned Monday and Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, a sophomore from Westminster, Colo., has designs on taking it. Kupcho fired a 2-under 70, tied with South Carolina’s Ainhoa Olarra for the day’s best round, and leads the pack at even-par 144.
   Purdue’s August Kim, a senior from St. Augustine, Fla. who won the Big Ten title as a junior, is a shot back in second at 1-over 145. Kim had grabbed a share of the opening-round lead by matching par in epically bad weather with a 72. She stayed solid with a 1-over 73 Sunday.
   Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn, a senior form Reedsport, Ore., and South Carolina’s Alarra, a junior from Spain, are tied for third at 146. Vaughn, a teammate of Stanford’s Lee on the U.S. Curtis Cup team last year, added an even-par 72 to her opening-round 74 while Olarra’s 70 moved her up the leaderboard.
   Kent State’s Michaela Finn, a sophomore from Sweden, is alone in fifth at 3-over 147 after matching par with a 72.
   Stanford’s Lee has a share of sixth at 4-over 148 following her 1-under 71. She is joined at that figure by one of the leading ladies on the Great Britain & Ireland team that wrested the Curtis Cup away from the U.S. a year ago, Duke’s Leona Maguire, a junior from Ireland and the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Like Lee, Maguire followed up an opening-round 77 with a 1-under 71.
   Backing up Kim for the Boilermakers is Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a sophomore from Bali who is tied for 52nd at 157 after a 78 in the second round. Covadonga SanJuan, a sophomore from Spain, is tied for 75th at 160 after carding a 76, Micaela Farah, a freshman from Peru, is tied for 85th at 161 after a 79, and Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, is tied for 101st at 164 after a second straight 82.
   And don’t count out North Carolina just yet. The Tar Heels made a big move in the final round of the Athens Regional just to get here. They are five shots from the top eight heading into the final round. They have proven they are capable.
   Leslie Cloots, a senior from Belgium who is putting the finishing touches on one of the finest careers in the history of the program, is tied for 40th at 155 after carding a 3-over 75. Lexi Harkins, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., is tied for 45th at 156 after adding a 79 to her opening-round 77. Kelly Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., improved three shots from her opening-round 80 with a 77 and is tied for 52nd at 157.
   Walker, playing in her first NCAA Championship, is tied for 66th at 159 after adding a 79 to her opening-round 80. She played on two state team champions at Radnor, the 2012 girls team as a freshman and the 2015 boys team as a senior.
   Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., is tied for 78th at 160 after slipping to an 83. She had opened with a 77 and at times this spring has been the Tar Heels’ best player.
   You want some reality TV? Check out the NCAA Championship Monday on The Golf Channel.

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