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Monday, May 22, 2017

Vaughn captures indiivdual title; quarterfinals for match play set in NCAA Championship

   A misjudged approach at the 17th hole cost Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, a sophomore from Westminster, Colo., the individual national championship while North Carolina, an upstart at No. 35 in the latest Golfstat rankings, saw its bid to reach match play fall one frustrating shot short.
   It was that kind of day at the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill., but then, it’s the kind of drama you’ve come to expect on the final day of individual play and team qualifying for match play.
   It looked like Kupcho was headed for an individual crown that would have made up for a spring of discontent for the Wake Forest program when her approach at the par-4 17th came up short and led to a triple-bogey 7.
   On the other side of the golf course, Arizona State’s Monica Vaughn, a senior from Reedsport, Ore., was finishing up a 1-under-par 71 over the tough 6,343-yard, par-72 Rich Harvest Farms layout on the ninth hole, having started at the 10th tee. It gave Vaughn, a member of the 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team that lost to Great Britain & Ireland, a 1-over 217 total that made her the sixth Sun Devil to win the individual crown. The last to do it was Spaniard Azahara Munoz, who has gone on to a successful LPGA career, in 2008.
   Kupcho ended up with a 2-over 74 that left her tied for second, a shot back of Vaughn at 2-over 218. Sharing second was Duke’s Leona Maguire, a junior from Ireland and the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Maguire, a leading lady on that Great Britain & Ireland team that defeated Vaughn and the U.S. in the 2016 Curtis Cup Match, signed for a 2-under 70 in the final round.
   Kupcho had suffered a concussion earlier this spring in a freak injury involving a cart and her push cart. I was aware that Wake Forest had lost Mathilda Cappeliez, a semifinalist in each of the last two U.S. Amateur Championships who went home to France. I thought Sierra Brooks, who lost in the final of the 2015 U.S. Amateur, was out with injury, but reports from Rich Harvest Farms indicate that Brooks, too, quit the program.
   An e-mailer who has been reading my updates from the college golf scene indicated that Wake Forest junior Erica Herr, the two-time PIAA Class AAA champion from Council Rock North, played with a badly injured arm in the Athens Regional because if she had dropped out, Kupcho would not have been eligible to advance out of the regional as an individual.
   Bottom line, though, Kupcho was one of the best freshmen in the country a year ago and she was one of the best players in the country this season. A gust of wind that held up her approach shot at the 17th hole at Rich Harvest Farms doesn’t change that.
   The past two champions of the Big Ten, Michigan’s Elodie Van Dievoet, a sophomore from Belgium who was this year’s conference champ, and Purdue’s August Kim, a senior from St. Augustine, Fla. who claimed the title in 2016, ended up tied for fourth at 3-over 219.
   Van Dievoet carded a 4-under 68, the low round of the tournament, to climb up the leaderboard. Kim capped her outstanding four-year career with the Boilermakers with a 2-over 74.
   Stanford’s Andrea Lee, the best freshman in the country out of Hermosa Beach, Calif., matched par in the final round with a 72 to finish alone in sixth at 4-over 220. Andrea Lee, by the way, was also on that U.S. Curtis Cup team with Vaughn a year ago. Baylor’s Amy Lee, a junior from Orange County, Calif., was another shot back in seventh at 5-over 221 after carding a solid 2-under 70.
   Andrea Lee and Amy Lee also lived to play another day as Andrea Lee’s Cardinal, the No. 1 team in the country, and Amy Lee’s Bears, ranked 17th, are among the eight survivors that will tee it up in the match-play quarterfinals Tuesday morning.
   Andrea Lee and Stanford got behind with a 311 in the dreadful cold, rain and wind that made Rich Harvest Farms so difficult in Friday’s opening round. But the Cardinal, which has reached the final match in each of the last two years, battled back with a second-round 298 and added a final round of 8-over 296 for a 905 that was bettered only by qualifying medalist Northwestern, ranked 12th, but seeded first going into match play.
   The Wildcats were so consistent in the wild weather that buffeted Rich Harvest Farms, including a drenching rain Saturday that turned the scheduled 72-hole match-play qualifying into a 54-hole test. They led No. 14 Kent State by two after Friday’s fight against the elements,  they led Kent State by eight after two rounds and they finished the job with a second straight solid 10-over 298 to finish at 33-over 897, eight shots ahead of Stanford.
   Vaughn sparked No. 7 Arizona State to a strong finish of 1-over 289 as the Sun Devils finished third at 45-over 909. Another Big Ten power, Ohio State, was four shots behind Arizona State in fourth at 49-over 913 after a final-round 303. The Buckeyes will bring the lowest ranking to the quarterfinals at No. 25. I don’t think they care one bit. They’re in.
   It will be Ohio State vs. Southern California, ranked sixth, in the quarterfinals as the Trojans, who also had to rally after a slow start in Friday’s awful weather, carded an 8-over 296 in the final round to finish tied for fifth at 50-over 914.
   Southern Cal shared fifth with Southeast Conference champion Florida, which had the worst first round of any of the match-play qualifiers, a 320 total. Gator sophomore Sam Wagner, the one-time junior phenom from Windermere, Fla., shot a 92 Friday. When it counted Monday, Wagner carded a 1-over 73 as the Gators fired a 4-over 292 to share fifth with Southern Cal at 914.
   Amy Lee led the way for No. 17 Baylor, which finished seventh at 53-over 953 after a final-round 306. No. 14 Kent State struggled to the finish line with a final-round 312, but it was enough to get the last ticket to match play at 55-over 919.
   Northwestern, which will get Kent State in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, was led by Janet Mao, a sophomore from Johns Creek, Ga. who finished 13th at 8-over 224 after a final round of 2-over 74.
Kacie Komoto, a senior from Honolulu, was solid as a rock, finishing a shot behind Mao in a tie for 14th at 225 after a final-round 75. Hannah Kim, a junior from Chula Vista, Calif., was Northwestern’s best player Monday with a 1-over 73 that left a player who was the Big Ten Player of the Year in her first two years in Evanston tied for 17th at 10-over 226.
   Stephanie Lau, a sophomore from Fullerton, Calif., struggled a little with a final-round 80 to finish tied for 24th at 229. Sarah Cho, a junior from San Diego, joined Lau in the group tied for 24th at 229 with a final-round 76.
   It looked like North Carolina might be the beneficiary when Kent State started to struggle in the afternoon. The Tar Heels had put up an 8-over 296 in the morning for a 56-over 920 total. That it turned out to be a shot short is maddening, but it was a pretty nice finish for a team that displayed a lot of grit just getting this far.
   Lexi Harkins, a junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., fired a 1-over 73 Monday to finish tied for 24th at 229. Leslie Cloots, a senior from Belgium, capped one of the finest careers in the history of the program with a 3-over 75 that left her tied for 32nd at 230.
   Kelly Whaley, a sophomore from Farmington, Conn., had her best round of the tournament, a 2-over 74 to finish tied for 45th at 231. Bryana Nguyen, a junior from Columbia, Md., bounced back from a second-round 83 to shoot a 2-over 74 in the final round to finish tied for 66th at 234.
   Freshman Brynn Walker, a two-time PIAA Class AAA champion at Radnor, had a final-round 77 to finish tied for 74th at 236. I chronicled Walker’s scholastic career in my past life at the Delaware County Daily Times, where this blog originated. So, obviously, I paid a lot of attention to the Tar Heels this season. They had their ups and downs, but they are going to be really tough next year.
North Carolina coach Jan Mann is already looking forward to next year. So am I.
   Three shots behind North Carolina in 10th place was South Carolina, which had a final-round 310 for a 923 total. In the final round of her brilliant college career, Katelyn Dambaugh, the lefty from Goose Creek, S.C., carded a 2-over 74. For one last time, she had the Gamecocks’ best round of the day.
   Another two shots behind South Carolina in 11th was Purdue, which, led by Kim, improved to a 304 in the final round for a 925 total.
   I have been following the Boilers in this blog since Delco’s own, Chichester product Aurora Kan, was there. This team, much like North Carolina, showed a lot of grit in surviving its ups and downs and nearly making it to match play.
   The foursome behind Kim at Rich Harvest Farms consisted of a junior, two sophomores and a freshman. The Boilers will be tough again next season.
   Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a sophomore from Bali, finished tied for 66th at 234 after a  final-round 77, Covadonga SanJuan, a sophomore from Spain, finished tied for 74th at 226 after a final-round 76 and Micaela Farah, a freshman from Peru, and Marta Martin, a junior from Spain, finished in the group tied for 95th at 241. Farah had a final-round 80 while Martin finished up with a 77.
   By the way, if it’s any consolation to Farah and Martin, one of the players tied for 95th at 241 was defending national champion Virginia Elena Carta, a sophomore at Duke from Italy. It sounds like the field at Rich Harvest Farms endured a Friday that will set a new standard for each of them for bad-weather golf as in, “Yeah, it was bad, but not as bad as that first day of NCAAs at Rich Harvest Farms.”
   The Golf Channel will pick it up Tuesday afternoon with the winner of Northwestern-Kent State vs. the winner of Ohio State and Southern Cal and the winner of Arizona State-Florida (a tremendous quarterfinal matchup) vs. the winner of Stanford-Baylor in the semifinals. Should be quite a show.

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