By any standard metric, Northwestern women’s golf had a great season. Playing in nine elite tournaments throughout the regular (traditionally with 12-18 teams in the field), the Wildcats had six top-five finishes, including two top-three finishes. At the Big Ten Championships they placed third, and in the NCAA regionals they took the sixth and final spot brought them to the NCAA Tournament.
On Tuesday, Northwestern’s season ended after a close 3-2 loss to Stanford in the NCAA quarterfinals, leaving them with a top-10 finish nationally. By Northwestern’s standards, however, it was just another year.
Since a breakout year in 2013 and the subsequent arrival of Hannah Kim in 2014-15, Northwestern has been a powerhouse program, winning three Big Ten co-championships and placing in the top three each of the five seasons. Coming off a second-place finish in last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats came into this one with a trophy on their minds.
In the match play format, senior Sarah Cho was the first to tee off against Stanford’s Emily Wang. Cho has an impressive resume herself: she was the 2015 Big Ten Individual Champion, was First Team All-Big Ten in 2016, and has the third lowest career scoring average in program history, at 74.4. Back in 2015, Cho won the Branch Law Firm/Dick McGuire Invite competing as an individual. Starting on the back nine, Cho and Wang were neck-and-neck through the first nine holes, with neither player going more than 1-up. They entered the front nine all knotted up. After splitting the first two holes, Cho gained control, winning holes 3, 4, 6, and 8 to secure a 3&1 victory (meaning she won by three strokes and clinched the match with one hole remaining). The Wildcats were on the board.
Going on concurrently was NU’s Brooke Riley versus the Cardinal’s Shannon Aubert. Aubert led the entire match, and clinched a 4&3 victory after hole 6.
Next, Hannah Kim took the course against Stanford’s All-American Mika Liu. Kim had a scorching start, winning the first four holes. She then maintained that lead through the back nine. On the front nine, Liu won two of the first three holes to make things interesting. Then, on the fourth hole, Kim made Northwestern’s shot of the match: she sunk a 55-foot putt from the rough for birdie to put her back 4-up regain control. Kim then cruised to a 5&3 victory.
The fourth match, pitting the Wildcats’ Stephanie Lau against Albane Valenzuela, was a tale of two halves. After tying the first three holes, Valenzuela gained the edge on hole 13. They went back-and-forth for the rest of the half, but Valenzuela ended up 2. On the front nine, Valenzuela pulled away to win, 5 & 4.
The match then came down to a battle between Northwestern’s Janet Mao versus Stanford’s Andrea Lee. Lee got off to a hot start, taking the first three holes, but Mao gained composure and trimmed her deficit to two through nine. After the turn, things got wild. Mao won the first hole to pull within one, but then Lee hit a number of clutch shots to go up three through six. Having to win the next three holes to force a tiebreaker, Mao birdied the seventh hole and then sunk another 18-foot birdie to force the ninth hole.
We only have one thing to say to you:— Northwestern Golf (@NUGolf_Live) May 22, 2018
Get thee to @GolfChannel.
Janet Mao has won her 16th and 17th holes in the deciding match against Stanford.
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However, with the season on the line, Mao and Lee each took five shots to secure the victory for Lee and for Stanford.
Northwestern will return seven of nine golfers next year, but will lose their top two in Cho and Kim. Stanford went on to fall to eventual champion Arizona.