Arizona State rallies, faces Northwestern in NCAA final
SUGAR GROVE, Ill. (AP) One shot away from elimination in the morning, Arizona State capped off a dream day with a resilient performance to win the NCAA women's golf title.
NCAA individual champion Monica Vaughn delivered the dramatic shot that kept the Sun Devils alive in the rain-delayed semifinals against Stanford. Linnea Strom, equally clutch in the morning semifinals, set off a wild celebration with one last birdie in the afternoon final that gave Arizona State a 3-1-1 victory over Northwestern.
''We've been working so hard for this,'' Strom said. ''All we've been talking about is this moment right here. I can't describe this feeling. It's amazing.''
Arizona State won its eighth women's golf title, extending its NCAA record, and it's first since 2009.
When the long day at Rich Harvest Farms began, it looked as though the Sun Devils might not be around very long.
Stanford had a 2-1 lead in the semifinals when the Sun Devils chose not to continue Tuesday evening because of darkness. Albane Valenzuela was 1 up on Vaughn and only needed to halve the par-5 18th for the Cardinal to advance to the final for the third straight year.
''Right then, I said, `I am not going to let this team down. I'm not going to give up.' I went out and fought to the bitter end,'' Vaughn said. ''And we won.''
From about 40 yards short, Vaughn's eagle pitch rolled off the pin and set up a short birdie that squared the match when Valenzuela missed her birdie. On the 19th hole, Valenzuela failed to get up-and-down from behind the first green and Vaughn won the match with a par.
Then it came down to Strom, who was all square in her match. Strom rolled in a 7-foot par putt on the 18th to extend the match, and she won in 19 holes, with Madeline Chou of Stanford three-putted from 40 feet away on the fringe.
Northwestern staged its own rally in the semifinals to beat Southern California, trailing in four matches when the Wildcats returned in the morning. They turned it around behind Janet Mao, who won the 16th and 18th holes to extend the match and then won on the 19th hole with a 12-foot par putt.
In the championship match, however, it was never really close once Strom began to pull away from Stephanie Lau.
Olivia Mehaffey, who joined Strom in winning all three of her matches, was 5 up through seven holes and easily put away Sarah Cho. Roberta Liti won three straight holes to start the back nine and won, 5 and 4, over Mao.
The lone Northwestern victory came from Kacie Komoto, who beat Sophia Zeeb.
Strom was 2 up through 10 holes when Lau holed a long eagle putt on the 11th hole to get within range. All that did was wake up Strom. She birdied the next two holes, won a third straight hole with a par and was 4 up.
Vaughn, meanwhile, rallied from 3 down after 10 holes to square the match through the 15th, and her match against Hannah Kim was headed for extra holes when Strom closed out her match on the 15th hole. Needing two putts from 7 feet, Strom holed it for her fourth birdie of the back nine.
Northwestern was making only its sixth appearance in the NCAA Women's Golf Championship, and it was trying to join Purdue as the only Big Ten school to win.
''We hung with them for quite a while,'' Northwestern Coach Emily Fletcher said. ''You don't get too many chances to play for a national championship. This was the first one for our program. We're going to try to build off it.''
It was the third title for Missy Farr-Kaye, but first as the head coach. She was an assistant on the 2009 team that won at Caves Valley when the format was stroke play, and she was part of the Arizona State that won its first title in 1990.
''I'm a lucky devil every day,'' she said. ''I'm so happy for them that they get to be national champions for the rest of their lives. That is so cool.''
That goes double for Vaughn, the only senior on the Arizona State team.
She started the week with an unlikely rally to win the individual title when Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest took triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round. Then, she was the spark plug for the Sun Devils in the match play.
''This is the best possible way to go out,'' Vaughn said. ''We knew at the beginning of the year that this team had it in them to win a national championship. That's all we talked about all year.''