Momentum on the course at Rich Harvest Farms seemed to change. Stephanie Lau, in the anchor match of a rough afternoon for the Northwestern Wildcats in the championship match of the NCAA championship, drained a 45-foot putt on the 11th hole to pull to within one of Linnea Strom.
With a highly partisan — and purple — crowd just outside of Chicago, Ill., suddenly a path to victory opened up for Northwestern. The Arizona State Sun Devils were coasting to victories in two matches, putting them just one win away from clinching the title. But Northwestern had the lead in another and Hannah Kim was going toe to toe at all square with individual national champion Monica Vaughn.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) May 24, 2017
The Wildcats were gaining steam. And after a comeback in the morning in the completion of the rain-suspended semifinal match against the USC Trojans, where Janet Mao drained a long putt on the 19th hole to send NU to the championship round, it felt like Northwestern had another comeback in it.
This is where championship mettle is made. Lau was struggling with her putter but found that little momentum to get herself going. And she continued to make difficult shots.
It just was not enough. That jolt of energy that seemed to swing momentum in Northwestern’s favor got Strom focused. She won the next four holes. And with time running out, Strom drained the clinching putt on the 14th hole, ending Northwestern’s surprise run to the national championship match and delivering Arizona State the NCAA title in women’s golf.
The Wildcats could not overcome their shaky start in the championship round and could not make up all the ground as Arizona State won 3.5-1.5 officially, Kim and Vaughn finished all square after Vaughn birdied the 18th to tie the match.
Northwestern came so close, but not close enough.
“So proud. That was hard-fought this afternoon,” head coach Emily Fletcher told NUSports.com. “There was no give up in our kids. They showed up and were ready to play. All of the credit to ASU and Missy and Michelle and that team. They played great this afternoon. We hung with them for quite a while. It was close for a bit. It was just really hard-fought. I’m so proud of our kids.”
The Wildcats have plenty to be proud of after the program’s best finish.
The Wildcats won the 54-hole stroke play competition to get the top seed in match play. They then came from behind to defeat both Kent State and USC in match play to reach the final. Northwestern always came on strong on the back nine throughout the week.
More optimistically, Northwestern will return five of the six players who made the trip to the national championship this year. That bodes well for the Wildcats future and the chances to get back to this stage next year. Northwestern finished ninth last year, a spot shy of reaching the match play.
It seems Fletcher’s team is only getting better.