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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Vanderbilt, Illinois men, Southern Cal, Stanford women will battle in East Lake Cup finals



   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.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Vanderbilt's Gordon, Southern Cal's Ree individual medalists iin East Lake Cup



   Some of the top amateur golfers in the world and in college golf got a little deserved air time on The Golf Channel as the East Lake Cup teed off Monday.
   The East Lake Cup, played at the same East Lake Golf Club course that has become the traditional home of the PGA Tour Championship, brings together the semifinalists from the previous spring’s men’s and women’s NCAA Championship.
   It is sort of a mini-NCAA Championship with one day of medal play that determines individual and team champions and, more importantly, establishes the matchups for match play. Since both the men’s and women’s NCAA Championship went to match play – the men took the dive first and the women followed a few years later – the top teams are always on the lookout for any opportunity to get some match-play experience.
   All these kids grew up playing stroke play, but match play is a whole different ball game. The new emphasis on match play in college golf was evident in last summer’s U.S. Amateur and U.S. Women’s Amateur when the finalists were all college players.
   When the dust settled Monday in chilly Atlanta there would be rematches of last spring’s semifinals at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. in both the men’s and women’s brackets. It didn’t have to work out that way, it just did.
   On the men’s side, reigning Southeast Conference champion Vanderbilt, No. 11 in the latest Golfstat rankings, swept both the individual and team medalist honors.
   Will Gordon, a junior from Davidson, N.C., matched par with a 72 on an East Lake layout that measured 7,630 yards for the guys to edge four players by a shot for the individual title.
   He led the Commodores to a 4-over 292 total and a three-shot margin over reigning national champion and 12th-ranked Oklahoma for team medalist honors. No. 10 Illinois, the reigning Big Ten champion and two-time defending East Lake Cup winner, was third at 301 followed by No. 38 Oregon, the reigning Pacific 12 champion, at 313.
   Two of Gordon’s Vanderbilt teammates, Theo Humphrey, a senior from Greenwich, Conn. and the No. 15 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and John Augenstein, a sophomore from Owensboro, Ky. and the hero of the Commodores’ heart-stopping run to the SEC title last spring, were two members of the foursome that finished a shot behind Gordon at 1-over 73.
   Illinois’ Nick Hardy, a senior from Northbrook, Ill. and No. 12 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Oklahoma’s Grant Hirschman, a senior from Collierville, Tenn., rounded out the quartet tied for second at 73.
   Rounding out the medal-winning team effort for Vanderbilt were Harrison Ott, a freshman from Brookfield, Wis. who finished tied for sixth with a 2-over 74, and Patrick Martin, a junior from Birmingham, Ala. who finished tied for 13th with a 4-over 76 that the Commodores were able to toss.
Vanderbilt will take on Oregon Tuesday in a rematch of last spring’s semifinal at Rich Harvest Farms won by the Ducks, who reached the NCAA’s final match for the second straight spring. Oklahoma will battle Illinois in the other semifinal. The Sooners knocked off the Illini in the semifinals at Rich Harvest Farms on their way to the national championship.
   If you’re not convinced that getting some match-play experience is helpful come postseason time, three of the four semifinalists from last spring gathered at East Lake this week were also here last year. Case losed.
   Stanford, No. 5 in the latest Golfstat rankings, is the only returning women’s team battling for the East Lake Cup. The Cardinal grabbed team medalist honors with a 3-over 291 total over an East Lake layout that measured 6,206 for the gals.
   No. 12 Southern California, led by individual medalist Robynn Ree, a junior from Redondo Beach, Calif., finished six shots behind Stanford in second at 9-over 297, No. 10 Northwestern was another shot behind the Trojans in third at 10-over 198 and No. 7 Arizona State, the reigning national champion, finished fourth at 13-over 301. Stanford, Southern Cal and Arizona State are all Pac-12 teams while Northwestern comes out of the Big Ten.
   Ree fired a 2-under 70 to capture individual medalist honors by a shot over a talented foursome.
Two players from opposing sides in the 2016 Curtis Cup Match at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club outside of Dublin, Stanford’s Andrea Lee, a sophomore from Hermosa Beach, Calif. and No. 5 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, a sophomore from Ireland and No. 14 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, were two of the four players who finished a shot behind Ree in a tie for second at 1-under 71.
   Mehaffey’s Great Britain & Ireland side won that Curtis Cup and you can bet U.S. captain Virginia Derby Grimes will be keeping half an eye on the coverage from East Lake – for all I know she might be there – as the USGA decides on whom will represent the U.S. in the 2018 Curtis Cup, which will be played in June at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y.
   Lee’s teammate, Shannon Aubert, a senior from Stuart, Fla. via France and the qualifying medalist in last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club, and Northwestern’s Janet Mao, a junior from Johns Creek, Ga., were also in the foursome tied for second at 1-under 71.
   Southern Cal’s Muni He, a sophomore from San Diego, Calif., finished alone in sixth with a 2-over 73.
   Stanford’s Albane Valenzuela, a sophomore from Switzerland and No. 3 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Arizona State’s Linnea Strom, a junior from Sweden and No. 9 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, finished tied for seventh at 2-over 74.
   Valenzuela reached the final of the U.S Women’s Amateur last summer at San Diego Country Club, falling to Texas senior Sophia Schubert. Valenzuela, who was also the runnerup in the stroke-play European Ladies’ Amateur in her native Switzerland, defeated Southern Cal’s Ree in the quarterfinals on her way to the U.S. Women’s Amateur final.
   Rounding out the team medal-winning effort for the Cardinal were Ziyi Wang, a sophomore from China who finished tied for ninth with a 3-over 75, and Madie Chou, a sophomore from Santa Ana, Calif. who finished 20th with an 85 that Stanford was able to toss.
   So it will be Stanford vs. Arizona State in Tuesday’s semifinals, a rematch of the Cardinal’s excruciating semifinal loss to the Sun Devils at Rich Harvest Farms in a match that was suspended by darkness with Stanford holding a slight advantage only to come up short. A victory would also have given the Cardinal a third straight trip to the NCAA Championship’s final match.
   The other semifinal will pit Northwestern and Southern Cal in a rematch of last spring’s other semifinal that the Wildcats won to reach the final.




Sunday, October 29, 2017

Duke claims the title as rain cancels final round of The Landfall Tradition



   Mother Nature called a halt to Round 6 of what has been entertaining couple of meetings between Duke, No. 4 in the latest Golfstat rankings, and No. 2 Alabama that has played out in a couple different locations in North Carolina this month.
   I managed to put together a post following round 2 of The Landfall Tradition, which had an outstanding 18-team field teeing it up at the Country Club of Landfall’s Dye Course in Wilmington, N.C.
   Duke had grabbed a one-shot lead over Alabama Friday with an 11-under 277 and kept a one-shot advantage as both the Blue Devils and the Crimson Tide carded a 3-under 285 in the second round. Duke was at 14-under 562, Alabama at 13-under 563. Michigan State was 11 shots behind Alabama in third at 2-under 574.
   Almost anything can happen in golf, but this sure looked like it was going to be a Sunday shootout between two of the top programs in women’s college golf.
   The field was ready to commence with the final round before it became obvious that course conditions were deteriorating and there was no end in sight for the rain.
   Two weeks ago Duke took a 10-shot advantage over Alabama into the final round of the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational at the University of North Carolina’s Finley Golf Course. The Crimson Tide unleashed a spectacular 18-under 270 in the final round and Duke responded with a 9-under 279 to hold on for a  one-shot victory. The Blue Devils were 31-under, the Crimson Tide 30-under.
   So this weekend will go into the books as another one-shot victory for the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champion Blue Devils over Alabama. A quick perusal of the two schools’ websites provides one bit of good news. Both will open the spring portion of their schedules in the Northrop-Grumann Regional Challenge at the Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. Feb. 11 to 13.
   I ran down the Duke lineup when I rounded up round 2 of the Landfall early Sunday morning since the  Blue Devils had the lead and I mentioned Alabama’s top two of Lauren Stephenson, a junior from Lexington, S.C., and Kristen Gillman, a sophomore  from Austin, Texas, who were tied for third and tied for fifth, respectively, in the individual standings.
   Backing up those two for Alabama was Cheyenne Knight, a junior from Aledo, Texas who ended up tied for 11th at 1-under 143. Knight, who is part of any discussion of the best players in women’s college golf, added a 1-over 73 to her opening round of 2-under 70.
   Angelica Moresco, a freshman from Italy, finished tied for 18th at 1-over 145. She had a 2-under 70 Saturday after opening up with a 75. Alabama’s top four of Stephenson, Gillman, Knight and Lakareber Abe, a senior from Angleton, Texas, are known quantities. Moresco could prove to be a crucial addition to the lineup when the postseason arrives next spring.
   Abe finished tied for 28th in the Landfall with rounds of 72 and 75 for a 3-over 147 total. Nicole Morales, a senior from Salem, N.Y., competed as an individual and finished tied for 39th with rounds of 73 and 76 for a 5-over 149 total.
   Duke also ended up with an individual champion at the Landfall as Ana Belac, a sophomore from Slovenia, was declared the co-champion along with Virginia’s Beth Lillie, a freshman from Fullerton, Calif., as they ended up at 9-under 135.
   Belac had grabbed the individual lead with an opening round of 6-under 66 and added a 3-under 69 Saturday. The scary thing is she may be Duke’s fifth best player. The Blue Devils tossed rounds of 76 and 77 posted by junior Virginia Elena Carta, a junior from Italy. Carta, who captured the NCAA individual title as a freshman in the spring of 2016, is No. 20 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.
   I cut off the individual standings in my round 2 post with Michigan State’s Sarah Burnham alone in eighth place at 3-under 141. So I thought I’d look through another dozen or so and offer  some thoughts that come up as I do.
   Oklahoma State’s fifth-place finish was fueled by strong showings by two seniors, Maddie McCrary of Wylie, Texas and Kenzie Neisen of New Prague, Minn.
   McCrary shared ninth place with Duke’s Leona Maguire, a senior from Ireland and the No. 1 player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking, at 2-under 142. McCrary followed up an opening-round 74 with a 4-under 68 on a day when the scores were generally higher than in round 1.
   Neisen was another shot behind McCray in a group of four players tied for 11th at 1-under 143. Neisen carded a 1-under 71 Saturday after matching par in the opening round with a 72. Oklahoma State certainly validated its No. 6 ranking, particularly in round 2 when the Cowgirls ripped off a 12-under 276 that left them at 4-over 580.
   Also in that group tied for 11th at 1-under 143 was Michigan State’s Paz Marfa Sans, a sophomore from Spain. In addition to Burnham, a senior from Maple Grove, Minn., and Marfa Sans, the Spartans had a third player in the top 20 as Allyson Geer, a sophomore from Brighton, Mich., finished in a group of three players tied for 15th at even-par 144.
   Marfa Sans added a 1-over 73 to her opening-round 70 while Geer had a 73 Saturday after opening with a 1-under 71.
   It added up to a third-place finish for the reigning Big Ten champion. The Spartans were the only team besides Duke and Alabama to finish under par as they were at 2-under 574.
   The Spartans’ chief rival in the Big Ten, Northwestern, which reached the final match in the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring before falling to Arizona State, will tee it up in the East Lake Cup Monday.
   The match-play semifinalists among the men and women from Rich Harvest Farms will play a one-day medal round Monday and then play matches Tuesday and Wednesday. And The Golf Channel will televise it. College golf in the middle of football season. What a concept.
   Alabama’s Knight was also in the group at 1-under 143 and rounding out that foursome tied for 11th was Purdue’s Covadonga SanJuan, a junior from Spain. She was one of two Boilers in the top 20 as Micaela Farah, a sophomore from Peru, finished in a group of five players tied for 18th at 1-over 145.
SanJuan had opened up strong with a 3-under 69, but fell back with a 2-over 74. Farah opened with a 2-under 70 before posting a 3-over 75 Saturday. A second-round 298 left the 17th-ranked Boilers in ninth place at 588.
   I mentioned in my post from round 1 of the Landfall that I’ve kept tabs on Purdue since the beginning of this blog when I was following the progress of 2010 PIAA champion Aurora Kan of Chichester. Some of the young players on Kan’s final Purdue team, SanJuan among them, two years ago are now the leaders this year and it just might be the strongest Purdue team since Kan’s sophomore season when the Boilers finished third in the pre-match play NCAA Tournament behind Southern California and Duke.
   LSU outperformed its No. 96 ranking as the Tigers finished tied for sixth with No. 8 Furman at 582. LSU had a pair of top-20 finishers as Claudia De Antonio, a senior from Venezuela, was in the trio tied for 15th at even-par 144 and Sydney Cavin, a senior from Baton Rouge, La., was in the five-player logjam tied for 18th at 1-over 145.
   De Antonio followed up an opening-round 74 with a 2-under 70 while Cavin also had a 2-under 70 Saturday after opening with a 75. Look for the Tigers to trend upward in the rankings.
   The third member of that group tied for 15th at even-par 144 along with LSU’s De Antonio and Michigan State’s Geer was UNC-Wilmington’s Thao My Nguyen, a senior from Vietnam. The host school’s Nguyen opened with a 1-under 71 and added a second-round 73. She helped the No. 81 Seahawks finish 10th in the team standings at 590.
   The fifth member of the group tied for 18th at 1-over 145 along with Duke’s Miranda Wang, Alabama’s Moresco, LSU’s Cavin and Purdue’s Farah was Clemson’s Ana Paula Valdes, a sophomore from Mexico. Valdes matched par Saturday with a 72 after opening with a 73.
   I wrapped up the performances of Penn State and Notre Dame in my post on round 2. Both had strong fall campaigns, but both got a close look at the Landfall at the kind of competition they’ll be facing in the spring if they want to earn an invitation to the NCAA regionals.
   I’ve mentioned before, there are no guarantees that the teams we saw this fall will be intact when the spring portion of the schedule commences in February. Somebody’s going to lose a player to the LPGA. A European player is going to get homesick and head back to the continent.
   But the road to the Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course, certainly looks like it will be a fascinating one.