It had to drive UCLA a little crazy to watch three of its Pac-12 rivals reach the semifinals of the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms last spring.
A few weeks earlier the Bruins had dusted the field in the Pac-12 Championship by 21 shots. Off they went to the Lubbock Regional as the top seed where they … crashed and burned. UCLA never got a chance to tee it up at Rich Harvest Farms because the Bruins picked a bad week to have a bad week, failing to advance out of the Lubbock Regional.
Pac-12 rival Arizona State dominated the Lubbock Regional and rode that momentum to a national championship.
In Tuesday’s final round of Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge at Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., UCLA, No. 1 in the latest Golfstat rankings, validated that top billing with a solid 7-over-par 291 over the 6,017-yard, par-71 Palos Verdes layout for a 15-over 867 total.
It gave the Bruins a four-shot victory over the toughest field they’ll face all spring, a field that included those three Pac-12 teams that reached the NCAA semifinals last spring. Last year was last year, though. UCLA is living in the present with some painful memories to spur the Bruins along.
No. 3 Alabama, which came into the final round tied for the lead with UCLA, carded an 11-over 295 that left the Crimson Tide in second at 19-over 871. No. 5 Stanford rallied with the day’s best round, a 5-over 289, to finish another five shots behind Alabama in third at 24-over 876.
Arizona, whose play in the Northrop Grumman would seem to suggest the Wildcats are a little better than their No. 39 ranking would suggest, had a final-round 306 to take fourth at 883, seven shots behind Stanford. Reigning national champion Arizona State, ranked sixth, was another shot behind its in-state rival in fifth at 884 after a final round of 301. Arizona and Arizona State had shared the opening-round lead when each carded a 1-over 285.
Reigning Big 12 champion Texas, ranked 10th, finished sixth at 33-over 885 after a final-round 291, reigning Southeastern Conference champion Florida, ranked 18th, was seventh at 890 after a final-round 301 and reigning ACC champion Duke, ranked second, finished eighth at 893 after a final-round 304.
UCLA, which earned its third straight tournament victory, was led by Lilia Vu, a junior from Fountain Valley, Calif. who is No. 2 in Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking. Vu fired a 3-under 68 to get a piece of the individual title at 1-under 212 along with Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, a sophomore from Ireland and No. 12 in the Women’s WAGR, and Texas’ Kaitlyn Papp, a freshman from Austin, Texas.
Mehaffey, a member of Great Britain & Ireland’s winning Curtis Cup team two years ago, had a one-shot lead heading into the final round and carded a 2-over 73. Papp, making a case as the best of a fabulous class of rookies around the country, had a 1-over 72.
Backing up Vu was Beth Wu, a junior from Diamond Bar, Calif. and a member of the losing U.S. team in that 2016 Curtis Cup at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in suburban Dublin. Wu carded a final-round 73 to finish alone in fifth at 2-over 215.
The Bruins got a clutch even-par 71 from Mariel Galdiano, a sophomore from Pearl City, Hawaii and also a teammate of Wu’s on that 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team. Galdiano finished tied for 30th at 223.
UCLA’s prodigious freshman talent, Patty Tavatanakit of Thailand and No. 13 in the Women’s WAGR, had been tied with Papp for second, a shot behind Mehaffey, heading into the final round, but struggled with a 79. Still, she finished tied for 11th at 6-over 219.
Rounding out the UCLA lineup was Joo Seo, a senior from Laguna Niguel, Calif. who finished tied for 76th at 235 after a final-round 80.
Finishing alone in fourth was Stanford’s Andrea Lee, a sophomore from Hermosa Beach, Calif. and No. 5 in the Women’s WAGR. And a teammate of Wu’s and Galdiano’s on 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team. And the best freshman in the country a year ago. OK, you get the picture, she’s a player.
Lee finished up with a 2-under 69 for a 1-over 214 total. Stanford has some bad memories from last spring, too, specifically an excruciating loss to Arizona State in the national semifinals at Rich Harvest Farm. The Cardinal, much like UCLA and Alabama and a few other teams in the Northrop Grumman Challenge field, has legitimate designs on a national championship. And few players compete like Lee does.
Alabama accounted for the next two spots on the individual leaderboard as Lakareber Abe, a senior from Angleton, Texas, finished sixth at 3-over 216 and 2014 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Kristen Gillman, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, finished seventh at 4-over 217.
Abe added a 1-over 72 to rounds of 73 and 71. Gillman, one of three Alabama players in the top 10 of the Women’s WAGR at No. 9, carded her second straight 74 after opening with a 2-under 69.
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times the last couple of days, there were about a thousand story lines in the loaded field at the Northtrop Grumman, but how about a shout-out to Florida’s Sierra Brooks, the runnerup in the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur and yet another member of that youthful 2016 U.S. Curtis Cup team.
It’s been a long and winding road for Brooks, who began her college career at Wake Forest in the late summer of 2016 and then suffered a hand injury, I think it was a wrist, and had surgery. But the injury was painfully slow to heal and along the way she left Wake Forest and seemed intent on turning pro.
But she wasn’t healthy enough to be a professional golfer, so the Sorrento, Fla. native enrolled at Florida, where she had once committed as an eighth- or ninth-grader.
Brooks matched par with a 71 in the second round after opening with a 75 and finished up with a 78 to finish tied for 34th at 11-over 224. I’m guessing she was happy to be back among friends and playing solid golf again.
Brooks was listed as the Gators’ top player and a healthy Brooks probably is that, even in a talented group with some holdovers from a team that rampaged to the SEC crown a year ago. Her score was the third best for the Gators. For now, though, Brooks is probably enjoying being one of the girls again.
At the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, Arkansas, No. 4 in the latest Golfstat rankings, cruised to a 10-shot victory Tuesday at Rio Mar Country Club’s Ocean Course in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico behind individual champion Maria Fassi, a junior from Mexico.
It is the fourth team victory in five events for the Razorbacks and the third individual title for Fassi. The wind blew all week in Puerto Rico, but Arkansas had the best round of the day, a 12-over-par 296 over the 5,981-yard, par-71 Ocean Course layout to give the Razorbacks a 30-over 882 total. If you don’t think Arkansas is a legitimate contender for a national championship, you haven’t been paying attention.
No. 26 Iowa State sent a message to the rest of the Big 12 that the Cyclones will be a team to be reckoned with as they carded a 301 in the final round to claim runnerup honors at 40-over 892, 10 shots behind Arkansas.
No. 22 Kent State was another five shots behind Iowa State in third at 845 after a final-round 303. It was seven more shots back to North Carolina State, probably a little better than its No.-43 ranking would let on, in fourth at 904 after a final-round 304.
No. 19 Colorado had one of the best rounds of the final day, a 298, to finish fifth at 907, three shots behind N.C. State. The only problem for the Buffaloes is that four of their Pac-12 rivals are ranked higher than they are.
Tournament host Purdue, the second-highest ranked team in the field at No. 17, had its best round of the tournament, a 304, but finished 10th of the 11 teams in the field at 921.
On a day when no one broke par, Fassi’s 2-over 73 was plenty good enough to give her a three-shot victory over Iowa State’s Celia Barquin Arozamena, a senior from Spain. The 73 gave Fassi a 54-hole total of 3-over 216. Barquin Arozamena had a final round of 3-over 74 to claim runnerup honors at 6-over 219.
Arkansas’ Dylan Kim, a junior from Plano, Texas, shared fifth place with Kent State’s Pimnipa Panthong, a sophomore from Thailand, at 8-over 221. Kim carded a final round of 3-over 74 while Panthong climbed up the leaderboard with a 1-over 72.
Also for the Razorbacks, Alana Uriell, a senior from Carlsbad, Calif., finished in a group tied for 16th at 227 after a final-round 78, and Kaylee Benton, a junior from Buckeye, Ariz., and Maria Hoyos, a freshman from Colombia, finished tied for 20th at 228, giving the Razorbacks five finishers in the top 20. Benton finished up with a solid 2-over 73 while Hoyos had a final-round 78.
Rounding out the Arkansas lineup was Jordy LaBarbera, a senior from Allen, Texas who finished tied for 40th at 234 after a final round of 234. Teams were allowed six players, one more than the usual five.
Colorado’s Robyn Choi, a sophomore from Australia, and North Carolina State’s Laura Kowohl, a junior from Germany, shared third place at 7-over 220, a shot behind Barquin Arozamena. Choi fired a 2-over 73 Tuesday while Kowohl finished up with a 1-over 72.
East Carolina’s Carley Cox, a junior from China Grove, N.C., finished alone in seventh place at 9-over 222, a shot behind Arkansas’ Kim and Kent State’s Panthong. It was another shot back to Iowa State’s Chayanik Wangmahaporn, a junior from Thailand, in eighth place at 10-over 223 after a final round of 75.
Leading the way for Purdue was Inez Wanamarten, a freshman from Indonesia who finished tied for 13th at 226 after a final round of 76. Micaela Farah, a sophomore from Peru, had the best round of the day for the Boilermakers, a 3-over 74 that enabled her to finish tied for 16th at 227.
Ida Ayu Indira Melati Putri, a junior from Indonesia, finished tied for 43rd at 236 after a final-round 78, Marta Martin, a senior from Spain, finished tied for 45th at 239 after a final-round 78, Linn Andersson, a senior from Sweden, finished tied for 56th at 239 after a final-round 76, and Lauren Guiao, a freshman from Evansville, Ind., finished 63rd at 250 after bouncing back from a pair of 86s in the first two rounds with a final-round 78.