Historic Run Ends In NCAA Final
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Oregon's run at a national championship in women's golf came down to the final two holes Wednesday, as the Ducks rallied back from an early deficit and took No. 1 Stanford down to the wire in a 3-2 loss at Grayhawk Golf Club.
As the first group in the match approached the turn, Oregon trailed by at least three strokes in three matchups and didn't lead in any. But senior Tze-Han (Heather) Lin took the lead in her match on the eighth hole and didn't give it up, and Briana Chacon joined Lin with three match-play wins in this tournament by winning at No. 17 and No. 18 to square the team score.
A par by Sofie Kibsgaard Nielsen at No. 12 and a birdie at No. 14 got her within 1 down against this championship's individual medalist, Rose Zhang of Stanford. But Zhang closed out their match at No. 17 and Oregon settled for finishing as runner-up in its first ever NCAA Championships match-play final.
"Disappointed, but yet at the same time so proud," UO coach Derek Radley said. "We did not play good golf in the beginning. In the start of this I think we were a little timid, just for the moment. However, I never count my Ducks out. Man, did we give it a run at the end."
The Ducks won the first Pac-12 Conference team championship in program history and went on to win the first NCAA Regional title in their history. They advanced to the match-play quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament for the second time ever and made the semifinals for the first time before falling in the final.
"I'm proud of our performance," Radley said. "Hats off to Stanford; they're an incredible program. They deserve it, they played better than us today. But this was huge, for our program to get our logo on this stage. This was the dream, and we're here. And I hope we're here stay."
How It Happened: Unlike the quarterfinal victory over San Jose State on Tuesday morning, when Ching-Tzu Chen won her first two holes to stake the Ducks to an early lead, momentum didn't materialize Wednesday until late in the afternoon. Chen and Hsin-Yu (Cynthia) Lu never led their matches in the final, nor did Kibsgaard Nielsen.
Chacon won at No. 2 to get back all-square, and won again at No. 4 to take the lead. But she slipped back to all-square at No. 6, and Lin dropped a hole at No. 7 to drop back to all-square.
"We won a couple holes early in both matches against San Jose State and Texas A&M (on Tuesday), and that was not the case today," Radley said. "We'd never been in that position before, so I think it took us a little bit too long to dig out of it. And we'll go through that — we'll talk about it — but that's a huge learning curve. That if you do get down you have to still try to make pars, and you don't have to force birdies. And I think that's what we were doing a little bit."
A win at No. 8 got Lin back in front, however, and she extended her lead with wins at No. 14 and No. 15. Chen dropped a 4&3 decision and Lu fell 5&3, but Lin ultimately clinched her match by halving No. 16 to win 3&2.
Win or lose, Wednesday's match was to be the final outing of Lin's senior season. Oregon's leader since arriving in Eugene when Radley and assistant Monica Vaughn took over the program four years ago, Lin has certainly put her stamp on the program.
"I feel like my biggest goal this week was just to give it everything I have, no regrets," Lin said. "And I think I accomplished that, I would say."
Chacon, meanwhile, won at No. 15 to get within a hole, then squared her match at No. 17. At the par-5 No. 18 she got up-and-down from a greenside bunker, and the birdie putt gave her a 1-up victory and a tie in the team score.
Nielsen's 13-foot birdie putt at No. 14 got her within a hole of Zhang, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world as well as the recently crowned NCAA champ. Zhang birdied No. 15 to get back to 2 up, and at No. 17 she made the par putt that clinched the match.
What It Means: The Ducks enjoyed a breakthrough season on the national stage, and intend to be a regular presence deep into the NCAA Tournament. This week's experience will prove invaluable in years to come.
"Overall, this is really good for us and it's gonna make us better for next year," Chacon said. "And gonna light a little bit of fire in our bellies, and make us work harder as a team all together. So I think that's gonna be really good for next year."