The 2018 NCAA Division-1 Women’s Golf championship kicks off later this week. It’s the opening act of a two-part drama (the men begin their championship next week) which is genuinely one of my favorite stretches of the golf calendar each and every year. In all seriousness, if I only had five golf telecasts to watch in any season, the NCAA championships, collectively, would be an easy pick for me. It’s richly compelling drama showcasing the very best of individual stroke play and team-based match play.
It wasn’t always like this though. Beginning with the first women’s championship in 1982 and up through 2014, the finals were strictly a 72-hole format, with the low team and low individual claiming respective national championships. In a rare moment of wisdom and progress the NCAA tweaked the format starting in 2015. An individual champion is still crowned after 72 holes, but now the low eight teams after stroke play enter a single-elimination match play tournament to decide the team national champion. Sprinkle in Golf Channel’s stripped-down, tightly-focused coverage of the event and what we have is a wonderfully tasty recipe combining high-level golf with notes of drama, unpredictability and raw emotion. In this the #YearofRejoicing, it’s important to highlight that which is righteous and good. Well, the NCAA Championships are awesome. If you’ve missed out the past few years don’t let it happen again. Tune in. You won’t be disappointed.
WHEN & WHERE
Friday, May 18th, through Wednesday, May 23rd, at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Twenty-four years ago Karsten Creek opened up as the home course for the Oklahoma State men’s and women’s golf teams. A Tom Fazio design, the course was the culmination of the multi-pronged efforts of former coach (and current AD) Mike Holder. Karsten Creek consistently rates in the upper echelon of public courses across the country and should provide a good backdrop for the action over the next couple weeks. As their write-up says, “the zoysia fairways were cut from a forest of oaks and black jacks, complemented by an undulating terrain that flows throughout the course. The back nine cascades around the 110 acre Lake Louise that is featured on the finishing holes.” I’m excited to see it for myself on TV! Until then, here’s the scenic video tour:
Two NCAA national championships will be awarded: one for the team champion and one for the individual champion.
The team format consists of 72 holes of stroke play to whittle the field from twenty-four programs to eight. The eight remaining teams are then seeded accordingly and square off in five individual match play competitions, with the winning team winning at least three of the matches. The team tournament from the quarterfinals through the finals is single elimination with individual matches consisting of 18 holes.
The individual format consists of the aforementioned 72 holes of stroke play. The low competitor from the competing twenty-four programs, plus an additional twelve individual qualifiers, will be crowned the individual NCAA national champion.
GOLF CHANNEL BROADCAST SCHEDULE
Monday, May 21st: 4:00pm to 8:00pm EST (Final round of stroke play–individual champion crowned, plus team match play brackets finalized)
Tuesday, May 22nd: 11:00am to 1:30pm EST (Team Quarterfinal Matches) AND 4:00pm to 8:00pm EST (Team Semifinal Matches)
Wednesday, May 23rd: 4:00pm to 8:00pm (Team National Championship Matches)
I’d never tell you who to root for, that’s a very personal decision. But what I will do, for my own edification (and maybe yours) is break out the 24-team field into different categories which might help inform your rooting interests (number in parenthesis next to each team is their GolfWeek/Sagarin rank).
There have been 35 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf team champions. The following schools (along with San Jose State!!!) are the only programs to win three or more:
- Arizona State (14) – 8 national championships, most in NCAA D-1. Will be looking to repeat after their title last year
- Duke (4) – 6 national championships are second most ever. Last team title came in 2014
- UCLA (3) – 3 team titles, their last occurring in 2011
- USC (5) – 3 team titles just like their crosstown rival, their last one coming in 2013
On the Cusp
Have all won their first team national championship within the last six years and by adding a second can join the titans of the sport:
- Alabama (1) – won their team title in 2012
- Stanford (6) – won the team national championship in 2015
- Washington (17) – won the title in 2016, part of a current three-year string of championships out of the Pac-12
These two programs both have two team championships to their name, though the last one for either was Arizona’s title in 2000:
- Arizona (12)
- Florida (13)
You SEC honks know who you are. There’s a trio to choose from this year and a title for any would be the first in school history:
- Arkansas (2)
- Auburn (22)
- Ole Miss (35)
Holy Resources, Batman!
These schools may or may not have ALL THE MONEY (but none have a women’s golf championship!):
- Florida State (20)
- Louisville (31)
- Texas (7)
- Ohio State (40)
Great schools, so I’m told, but zero team titles to their name:
- Northwestern (10)
- Virginia (28)
- Wake Forest (16)
At least as far as resources among this group. If you want to know who I’ll be pulling for, look no further than the Kent State Golden Flashes. My love for the Mid-American Conference trumps all!!
- Furman (8)
- Kent State (15)
Rest of the Field
- Oklahoma (19) – would be some first-class irony for the Sooners to win their first title at OSU’s Karsten Creek
- Baylor (26) – as the Waco Tribune says, this team overcame some serious obstacles (i.e. sickness) to just get here
- Colorado (21) – gotta be honest, I don’t really have a great angle here
As I noted earlier, the field for the individual national championship consists of all the members of the twenty-four qualifying teams, along with twelve additional individual qualifiers. Those twelve qualifiers are:
- Jillian Hollis, Georgia –ranked 5th individually. Also just qualified for the US Women’s Open. Will forego senior season to turn pro.
- Maddie Szeryk, Texas A&M –ranked 23rd individually. Also Canada’s top female amateur. Was a First-Team All American last season.
- Leonie Harm, Houston –ranked 37th individually. Shot a school-record 65 en route to getting back to the NCAA’s.
- Emma Broze, Oklahoma State –ranked 64th individually and will bear the full weight of hosting duties on her shoulders (not really).
- Jess Yuen, Missouri –67th ranked individual. This will be first time competing at the NCAA Championships.
- Hira Naveed, Pepperdine –84th ranked individual. The New Zealand native, a junior, will be making second trip to NCAA finals.
- Rose Huang, BYU –100th ranked individual. Survived a five-hole playoff to make it through to the finals.
- Gabby Curtis, Wisconsin –107th ranked individual. The Senior is playing very good golf, coming off a 4th place regional finish.
- Erin Harper, Indiana –ranked 134th individually. Gives the tournament a bit more of some much-needed Midwest representation.
- Micheala Williams, Tennessee –139th ranked individual. Honestly couldn’t find much about her. These S.I.D.’s need to step their game up!
- Marthe Wold, Cal –173th ranked individual. Fun fact: the senior is from Norway. Also, case where SID needs to step up!
- Nicole Schroeder, Oregon State –234th ranked individual but is in awesome form winning the Madison Regional. Can she keep it up?
ODDS AND ENDS
-By my research there has never been a two-time NCAA individual champion. And while last year’s champion, Monica Vaughn of Arizona State, graduated and thus can’t accomplish the feat there is one person who can. Duke junior Virginia Elena Carta won the title her freshman year at Eugene CC and looks to add a second this year.
-The 1988 women’s championship (team and individual titles) is officially listed as vacated, which naturally caught my eye. After a bit of research, and according to Jacob Bogage of the Chicago Tribune, Tulsa’s championships were revoked by the NCAA. But get this, apparently the rules infractions didn’t have anything to do with the women’s golf team; instead, the NCAA vacated wins across the athletic department “after track and field coaches let athletes run under assumed names to bolster roster size.” Melissa Luellen, now head women’s coach at Auburn, won the individual title that year, and apparently still has the ring as nobody ever asked for it back. Tulsa still displays the championship banner and notes the titles in their media guides too. Hooray for the NCAA!
-Annika Sorenstam won the 1991 individual championship for Arizona. She’s the only LPGA hall of famer (remember, the first NCAA title was awarded in 1982) to do that. The next woman with a look at this honor is Stacy Lewis, who won the 2007 title while competing for Arkansas.
-Since the format moved from strictly stroke play after 2014 to a blend of stroke and match play, the Pac-12 conference has had carte blanche on the team competition. Stanford won in 2015 (defeated Baylor 3 to 2), Washington won in 2016 (defeated Stanford 3 to 2), and Arizona State won last year (defeated Northwestern 3.5 to 1.5). Can the Pac-12 make it four in row? Who knows! But it’ll be fun to watch.
-Last summer, Golf Channel inked an agreement to continue hosting the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Championships through at least 2029. That’s the good news. The maybe-not-so-good-news comes from the press release, and specifically information about future host sites for the Championships. After the Blessings Golf Club (Fayetteville, Arkansas) in 2019, the next three tournaments are slated to be held at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona (only venues through 2022 are listed). My disappointment isn’t with the Grayhawk Club, per se, it’s that it appears it may become the permanent host for the NCAA Championships. I think that’d be a terrible mistake. Some of my fondest memories of the past three years are directly related to the courses and locations of the tournament (the cook on the clubhouse roof in Eugene, the inexplicable row of hedges last year at Rich Harvest Farms). Please, NCAA, ignore your every instinct and keep rotating the host venue!