They were all rematches from last year’s NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms, both the men’s semifinals and the women’s semifinals in the East Lake Cup Tuesday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
And the losers of all four of those matches at Rich Harvest Farms turned the tables on their conquerors last spring. They are different teams now and nothing will ever take away the disappointment of losing when you’re that close to a national championship, but, as those losers in last spring’s semifinals will be the first ones to tell you, winning sure beats the alternative.
Of course, there are no losers teeing it up at four of the marquee programs in both men’s and women’s Division I college golf, which they all proved again for all the world to see on The Golf Channel.
On the men’s side, Vanderbilt, reigning Southeast Conference champion, the stroke-play medalists at Rich Harvest Farms, claimed a 4-1 victory over Pacific 12 Conference champion Oregon while Big Ten champion Illinois pulled out a 3-2 win over reigning national champion Oklahoma.
Vanderbilt, No. 11 in the latest Golfstat rankings, will take on No. 10 Illinois for the men’s title Wednesday while No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 38 Oregon will square off in the consolation match.
Vanderbilt claimed a 4-1 victory over the Ducks, who have reached the NCAA Championship’s final match in each of the last two seasons.
Oregon’s lone point came in convincing fashion as Norman Xiong, a sophomore from Canyon Lake, Calif. and one of the heroes of the U.S. team’s 19-7 victory over Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup Match last summer, claimed a 6 and 4 victory over the Commodores’ Harrison Ott, a freshman form Brookfield, Wis.
But the rest was all Vandy. Will Gordon, a junior from Davidson, N.C. who claimed medalist honors in Monday’s stroke-play qualifying with an even-par 72 over the 7,430-yard, par-72 East Lake layout, rolled to a 4 and 3 victory over Oregon’s Edwin Yi, a junior from Beaumont, Calif. and a veteran of both of the Ducks’ runs to the NCAA’s final match.
Patrick Martin, a junior from Birmingham, Ala., claimed a 2 and 1 victory over Ryan Gronland, a redshirt junior from Pleasanton, Calif.
Theo Humphrey, a senior from Greenwich, Conn. and No. 15 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, nailed down the clinching point with a 3 and 2 victory over Thomas Mulligan, a freshman from Ireland. Vandy’s other point came from John Augenstein, a sophomore from Owensboro, Ky. who edged Donald Kay, a freshman from San Diego, Calif., 1-up.
Illinois, the two-time defending East Lake Cup winner, got convincing wins from its top guns as Dylan Meyer, a senior from Evansville, Ind., claimed a 3 and 2 victory over Oklahoma’s Blaine Hale, a junior from Dallas, and Nick Hardy, a senior from Northbrook, Ill., dusted the Sooners’ Grant Hirschman, a senior form Collierville, Tenn., 6 and 4.
Meyer is No. 8 and Hardy No. 12 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
Still, the Illini had to get a hard-fought 2 and 1 win by Michael Feagles, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., over arguably Oklahoma’s best player, Brad Dalke, a junior from Norman, Okla., to nail down the win.
Oklahoma got wins from Garett Reband, a sophomore from Fort Worth, Texas who defeated Giovanni Tadiotto, a sophomore from Belgium, 3 and 2, and Riley Casey, a sophomore form Abilene, Texas who edged Brandon O’Reilly, a freshman from Hinsdale, Ill., 1-up.
It’s safe to say that the Pac-12 is the best conference, top to bottom, in Division I women’s golf. Three of the four semifinalists at Rich Harvest Farms hailed from the Pac-12, despite some decidedly un-West Coast-like conditions.
None of those three won the Pac-12 title. That belonged to UCLA, which has risen to the top of the latest Golfstat rankings. The Bruins were the hottest team in the country at one point last spring, but picked a bad week to have a bad week and never made it out of the Lubbock Regional.
So it’s not a major surprise that Wednesday’s final will be an all-Pac-12 affair after No. 12 Southern California rolled to a 4-1 win over No. 10 Northwestern and No. 5 Stanford pulled out a 3-2 decision over No. 7 Arizona State, the reigning national champion.
The Trojans got out of the gate quickly as Alyaa Abdulghany a freshman from Newport Beach, Calif., and Robynn Ree, a junior from Redondo Beach, Calif. and one of their team leaders, claimed 3 and 2 victories. Abdulghany knocked off Sarah Cho, a senior from San Diego, Calif., and Ree beat Stephanie Lau, a junior form Fullerton, Calif.
Allisen Corpuz, a sophomore from Honolulu, Hawaii, claimed another 3 and 2 win over Brooke Riley, a sophomore from Manteca, Calif., to clinch the win for Southern Cal. The Trojans’ fourth point came from Divya Manthena, a sophomore from Moorpark Calif., who claimed a 2 and 1 win over Janet Mao, a junior from Johns Corner, Ga.
Northwestern’s lone win came from Hannah Kim, a senior from Chula Vista, Calif. who has been a leading lady for the Wildcats from the minute she stepped on to their Evanston, Ill. campus. Southern Cal’s Muni He, a sophomore from San Diego, played 3-under golf on an East Lake course that measures 6,206 yards for the gals, but fell 3 and 2, to Kim.
It was only fitting that Albane Valenzuela, a sophomore from Switzerland and the No. 3 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, would get the winning point in Stanford’s victory over Arizona State in a match littered with players who appear in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking’s top 15.
Valenzuela has a 1-up lead on NCAA individual champion Monica Vaughn of Arizona State on the 18th hole in the NCAA semifinals at Rich Harvest Farms when darkness fell. When play resumed the next day, Vaughn won the hole, sending the match to extra holes, where Vaughn gained the critical point. The national championship was likely decided in those couple of holes.
Tuesday, Valenzuela trailed Roberta Liti, a senior from Italy, 1-down, on the 17th tee. Valenzuela, the runnerup in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and in the European Ladies’ Championship last summer, dropped a 15-foot birdie putt on the 17th to even the match, nearly reached the par-5 finishing hole in two, nearly holed her eagle chip and calmly holed a four-foot birdie putt for a 1-up victory that sent the Cardinal to the final.
Stanford also got a hard-fought 1-up win from Shannon Aubert, a senior from Stuart, Fla. via France, over Sophia Zeeb, a senior from Germany, and a 4 and 3 victory from Ziyi Wang, a sophomore from China, over Madison Kerly, a junior from Phoenix.
In the match of the day, Arizona State’s Linnea Strom, a junior from Sweden and No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, needed six birdies to edge Andrea Lee, a sophomore from Hermosa Beach, Calif. and No. 5 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, 1-up.
The other point for the Sun Devils came from Olivia Mehaffey, a sophomore from Ireland and No. 14 in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Mehaffey rolled to an 8 and 7 victory over Madie Chou, a sophomore from Santa Ana, Calif.
You’ll be watching a lot of these guys and gals playing professional golf on TV in a few years. And you can watch them on TV Wednesday. They can really play.