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#BurnTheShips: Northwestern women’s golf has a week for the ages

They may have finished second, but no one at Rich Harvest Farms could stop talking about them.


We sent Ben Goren and Caleb Friedman to the NCAA Women’s Golf Championships in Sugar Grove, Illinois. It was a spectacular experience.

Nay, come! and burn with me these accursed ships. For in my sleep the phantom of Cassandra, the soothsayer, seemed to give me blazing brands: ‘Here seek Troy,’ she said; ‘here is your home.’ Now it is time that deeds be done; such portents brook no delay. Lo, four altars to Neptune! The god himself lends the brands and the resolve.

The Aeneid, Book 5

For the entirety of this month, Northwestern women’s golf has adopted #BURNTHESHIPS as its slogan.

Burning your ships is one of the most fascinating historical military strategies (it’s not as cool as decimation, but that’s a different conversation for a different day).

Hernán Cortés is the most famous example. Fearing a mutiny from his men, he had his boats burned and decided to march on Tenochitlán anyway. There was no way to sail back to Cuba if the ships were resting on the bottom of the ocean. But the world and the history books are littered with wreckage of ships burnt by leaders in an effort to inspire their troops. In China in 200 BC. On the Iberian peninsula by Umayyad forces in the 8th century. Aeneas does it in the Aeneid when he reaches Italy in the passage above.

It’s the most brutal way to send a message. When you literally cannot retreat, you’re either winning, or you’re dying.

Those are pretty high stakes for a college golf tournament.

In that sense, #BurnTheShips is a little ridiculous (and a tad clichéd). It’s not like this is Northwestern’s last stand. This isn’t a team built around seniors that’s making its last gasp before a rebuild. Northwestern women’s golf is already the best team on campus and they’re probably going to keep getting better. There wasn’t really a need to burn the ships. But after a disappointing finish in the Big Ten Championships, that sense of urgency was palpable at Rich Harvest Farms throughout the week.

In conditions that made some of the best teams in the country look like they were at the Somme and not Sugar Grove, Northwestern wiped the floor with the competition. They came back from the dead against USC with the sauciest 10-footer walk-in this side of Patrick Reed.

Pure shot after pure shot, early tee grab after early tee grab, 30-foot bomb after 30-foot bomb, Northwestern walked around like they owned the place. It was so damn cool. They played like a team that had nowhere to run.

The fans were so into it too. It’s really easy to hop on the bandwagon of a major team when they do well, but if you actually went all the way out to Sugar Hills, it meant you were Many Northwestern athletes who made the trek, repping almost every sport. The big names were there (hey Jim Phillips and also, for some reason, Willy The Wildcat). At least 90% of the fans who were at Rich Harvest Farms for the final round were wearing some kind of purple. It wasn’t quite a Ryder Cup atmosphere, but ask anyone who was there Wednesday morning during Northwestern’s incredible comeback against USC, and they’ll let you know how electric it was. That was really cool. We’re a women’s golf school now.

Best I can tell, there aren’t any examples of generals burning their ships and then losing the battle, probably because the scribe in charge of writing that down would have been ran through with the rest of the army if they were defeated. One can imagine that it wouldn’t be dissimilar to what went down on Wednesday evening. Northwestern won just one match in their championship tilt against Arizona State before the Sun Devils got to three points by winning 4&3, 5&4, and 5&3. For the uninitiated, those are take-no-prisoner margins.

If the ships were well and truly burned, Sarah Cho, Hannah Kim, Kacie Komoto, Janet Mao, and Stephanie Lau would be stranded with head coach Emily Fletcher at Rich Harvest Farms for the rest of time (NOTE: that would not be a bad place to be stranded, given the historical precedents). I’m pretty sure that isn’t what happened. Instead, all lingering doubt as to whether this team is legitimate or not has been removed. The Northwestern community writ large can get behind women’s golf the same way it got behind women’s lacrosse.

I will admit that playing a national championship in a western Chicago suburb in May makes for poor golf (thanks Weather Gods for the Tuesday rain-out). But no matter, Northwestern’s performance made everyone proud and gave us one of the best stories in Northwestern sports over the past 12 months.

I said in the fall they’d win the national championship this year. I’ll run that bet back again.

Only next time, maybe Emily Fletcher should find non-naval transportation.