It was a run for the ages, but Northwestern women’s golf came up just short in the finals.
It was still the best NCAA Championships finish in program history, as the Wildcats took the tournament by storm. They won the stroke play portion and entered match play as the No. 1 seed. They held off Kent State with a 3-2 win (if you aren’t familiar, five golfers from each team go head to head and whichever team wins more matches is victorious) before advancing to the finals with a dramatic 3-2 comeback victory over USC.
The season may have ended on Wednesday afternoon with a 3-1-1 loss to No. 1 Arizona State, but there was nothing for Emily Fletcher and her players to be ashamed of. Northwestern women’s golf will end 2017 as the second-best team in the country. After losing the Big Ten title and coming in as the 11th-ranked team in the country, what they did at the Rich Harvest Farms golf course was spectacular.
On Tuesday, Northwestern had to grind out that win over Kent State. It wasn’t easy, but the Wildcats rode strong performances from Hannah Kim, Kacie Komoto and Sarah Cho into the semifinals with USC. However, heavy rain and thunderstorms suspended play midway through the semifinals, forcing all four teams to complete the semifinals on Wednesday.
In true “Cardiac Cats” fashion, Northwestern put together a stunning comeback in the back nine. The team entered the final four holes behind USC in three matches, but two stunning comebacks from Kacie Komoto and Janet Mao brought Northwestern from the brink. Senior Komoto was down three holes with three to go, possibly playing the final holes of her NCAA career. But she did not go softly into that good night, and she won the final three holes to ensure extra golf. But, heartbreakingly, Komoto’s efforts were in vain as USC’s Muni He birdied to win the point for the Trojans and prolong the match.
It all came down to Northwestern’s Janet Mao and USC’s Gabriella Then. Mao needed to win hole 18 to keep Northwestern alive and she did just that. In the extra hole, Mao made a clutch par putt, leaving Then with a huge putt to extend the match. However, Then’s effort came up short and Mao celebrated an improbable Northwestern victory.
The celebrations quickly ended, however, as powerhouse Arizona State awaited in yet another round at Rich Harvest Farms. The Sun Devils had won a dramatic playoff of their own against Stanford, but with overall NCAA Champion Monica Vaughn and four other solid golfers on their roster, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Wildcats.
Northwestern started behind early and never caught up. Despite Northwestern’s Hannah Kim battling Vaughn to a draw, the depth of the Arizona State squad proved too much. Northwestern never took the lead. Arizona State’s three victories from Liti, Strom and Mehaffey were all by more than three holes. It was enough to give Arizona State the National Championship.
Again, there’s nothing to be ashamed of for Northwestern. Making the match play round for the first time was a huge achievement to begin with. Making the final and defeating a good USC team (avenging that Rose Bowl) was fantastic.
Much of this Northwestern team will return next year, and another run at the match play near-lottery could definitely be on the cards.