It’s that time again! You may be absorbed in the PGA Championship this weekend but I’d argue it’s absolutely not the most fun tournament being contested. That distinction goes to NCAA Division-I Women’s Golf championship, which kicks off Friday, May 17th. While television coverage won’t come until Monday, May 20th, you can follow along with the action thanks to GolfStat. I said the exact same thing last year but it bears repeating—the women’s championship is the opening act of a two-part drama (the men begin their championship the week after the women) which is genuinely one of my favorite stretches within the golf calendar each and every year. It’s a perfect recipe of individual stroke play, passion-filled, team-based match play, and life-altering, yet wholly-intrinsic stakes. I urge you to check it out.
WHEN & WHERE
Friday, May 17th, through Wednesday, May 22rd, at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Blessings celebrates its 15thyear of existence by playing host to the 2019 NCAA Championships. The home course of the Arkansas Razorbacks, it’s a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design touched up more recently by Kyle Phillips. The private course was the brainchild of Tyson Foods chairman, John H. Tyson (if you want to enjoy some chicken nuggets while watching coverage be sure to also check out some of the warm, fuzzy press around Tyson’s practices. Yum!) Anyway, the course is par 72 (37-35) that can be stretched out to a comfy 7,900+ yards with a 79.1 rating and 153 slope. Exactly my type of track!
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 best teams are seeded 1 through 8 and square off in match play involving five duels. 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, is crowned the individual NCAA national champion.
BROADCAST SCHEDULE: GOLF CHANNEL
Monday, May 20th: 4:00pm to 8:00pm EST (Final round of stroke play–individual champion crowned, plus match-play brackets finalized)
Tuesday, May 21st: 11:00am to 1:30pm EST (Team Quarterfinal Matches) AND 4:00pm to 8:00pm EST (Team Semifinal Matches)
Wednesday, May 22nd: 4:00pm to 8:00pm (Team National Championship Matches)
As always, I couldn’t possibly tell you where to place your allegiance. Like last year, though, I’ve broken the field out in my own way which I hope will serve to help inform a rooting interest should you be searching (number in parenthesis next to each team is their GolfStat rank).
There have been 36 NCAA D-I Women’s Golf Team national championships awarded throughout history. The following schools have won a combined 23 of them:
- USC (1) –the Trojans have three team titles in their history. This year’s squad is led by sophomore Jennifer Chang, 3rd-ranked nationally. They’re young and deep, five players within the top-29, all sophomores or freshmen.
- Duke (3) –highest ranked player is sophomore Jaravee Boonchant (4th). Squad also features senior Virginia Elana-Carta, NCAA champion four years ago as a freshman, who comes in ranked 50th.
- Arizona (4) –last year’s team champs will look to run it back with a very experienced squad. Haley Moore, who clinched the winning point last year on the 19th hole, is back. I urge you to read this piece on her by Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner.
- Arizona State (14) –have won 8 team titles, most in NCAA history. This year’s team is led by junior Olivia Mehaffey, ranked 7th nationally.
- UCLA (15) –led by sophomore Patty Tavatanakit who comes in ranked 8th this year and was low amateur at the 2018 US Women’s Open.
On the Cusp
These programs have a team title to their name, all in this decade. Another title would catapult them up a level:
- Purdue (22) —won their sole team title in 2010; highest ranked player is senior Melati Putri (91st). Will be a tall feat to make the knockout stage.
- Stanford (7) —Andrea Lee, ranked 2nd nationally, leads the Cardinal. They captured the team title in 2015.
- Washington (18) —won the team title in 2016; an experienced group which is fronted by their youngest member, Rino Sasaki, ranked 60th nationally.
Between 1985 and 1992 these two programs won a combined 5 team titles, none since, however. They’d obviously love to change that:
- Florida (11) –great depth on this Gators team with five players ranked between 41st (Sierra Brooks) and 94th (Addison Baggarly). My opinion is completely uninformed but I look for them to make serious noise.
- San Jose State (23) –led by the dynamic duo of freshman Natasha Andrea Oon (31st ranked) and senior Abegail Arevalo (36th ranked). No other Spartans rank in the top-250. Can the rest of the squad step up?
Deep in the heart of SEC country in Fayetteville there are four tried-and-true SEC programs to pick from. Each is seeking their first team title:
- Arkansas (10) –host squad should be at an advantage. 5th-ranked Maria Fassi leads the group.
- Auburn (13) –10th-ranked Julie McCarthy leads War Eagle.
- Ole Miss (30) –Julia Johnson, ranked 57th, leads Ole Miss. They have an uphill climb facing them this week.
- Tennessee (36) –95th-ranked Micheala Williams leads the Lady Vols. Like Ole Miss, I don’t foresee a long week but of course I could be wrong!
Holy Resources, Batman!
These schools have ALL THE MONEY so you shouldn’t casually root for either of them, unless you enjoy playing the Don’t Pass line at the craps table:
- Florida State (9) –led by top-ranked freshman, Frida Kinhult. She is super decorated and if that last name sounds familiar, her brother, Marcus, just won the British Masters on the Euro Tour. Excited to see her play!
- Texas (2) –Agathe Laisne (11th) and Kaitlyn Papp (12th) lead the Longhorns, and they’re peaking at the right time. Are seeking the program’s first team title.
Great schools, so I’m told, zero team titles to their name:
- Wake Forest (6) –this is a deep team capable of winning their first title. They’re led by Jennifer Kupcho, who among other things won the 2018 individual NCAA title as well as the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur earlier this year.
- Vanderbilt (8) –does Vandy like being separated from the rest of the SEC? I don’t know, but it feels right. Auston Kim (37th) and Abbey Carlson (40th) offer a solid one-two punch.
- Northwestern (16) –Stephanie Lau (35th) and Brooke Riley (47th) lead this iteration of the Wildcats. They were runners-up in 2017.
- Virginia (17) –no school has ever pulled off the men’s basketball/women’s golf double in the same year! That’s a completely arbitrary nugget I like with UVA having the opportunity this year. 39th-ranked senior, Anna Redding, leads the Cavs.
One of My Alma Maters!
- Indiana (52) –competing in the NCAA championships for the first time since 2007, the Hoosiers have battled back from a February swoon. Senior Erin Harper (137th) is the highest-ranked individual for IU. A berth in the knockout bracket would be a huge success.
Ranking-wise, Kent State is *not* an underdog, which makes their resource disadvantage more interesting:
- Kent State (5) –The Flashes are experienced and looking to make serious noise this week. Led by Karoline Stormo (34th), Kent State will look to make the quarterfinals after just missing last year. As a Mid-American Conference honk I will always pull for Kent State.
- Central Florida (43) –freshman Elizabeth Moon (83rd) leads the squad. By virtue of being non-Power 5 I hope UCF makes a run this week.
The Leftover Team
- Illinois (20) –I couldn’t find a good spot for the Illini so here they are! This is their first NCAA championships, so anything past qualifying for knockouts would be a huge bonus.
As 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, with Golfstat rank in parentheses, are:
- Aneka Seumanutafa, Ohio State (15th) –freshman has burst onto the scene this year. Ranks 5thin scoring average. Won the 2017 North & South Championship, finished second in 2018.
- Ellie Slama, Oregon State (27th) –sophomore, native Oregonian set the school scoring average mark this year while ranking 10th nationally. Fun fact from her bio– she won every single league tournament in high school as a sophomore, junior and senior. Bet there were some coaches glad to see her graduate.
- Kaitlin Milligan, Oklahoma (30th) –the pride of Norman, Oklahoma is 16th in scoring average nationally, having improved 2.5 strokes from her freshman year.
- Angelica Moresco, Alabama (59th) –sophomore from Italy is currently 86thin scoring average. She captured the bronze medal at last summer’s European Ladies’ Amateur Championship, and we also share an October 10th birthday!
- Kathleen Scavo, Oregon (61st) –senior is peaking at the right time. Truthfully, I couldn’t find much else so apologies, Kathleen.
- Allyson Geer-Park, Michigan State (62nd) –junior Michigan native is 59th in scoring average. A former Big10 Freshman of the Year, she has competed via sponsors exemption in the Meijer LPGA Classic on multiple occasions.
- Michaela Fletcher, Memphis (63rd) –the redshirt senior from South Africa ranks 12th in scoring average and is back as an individual qualifier after doing so as a freshman in 2015.
- Virunpat Olankitkunchai, Maryland (72nd) –sophomore from Thailand is 46th in scoring average. That $2 will get you a coffee tomorrow morning.
- Linette Holmslykke, Murray State (88th) –the Dane is 55th in scoring average across D1. She’s a senior so this is it.
- Mikayla Fitzpatrick, Xavier (112th) –junior from Arizona attended Xavier College Prep in Phoenix, which might have contractually obligated her to attend Xavier University (that’s a joke). All-Big East performer is a bit of a darkhorse nationally. No doubt my brother-in-law and the Maketewah faithful will be cheering her on from Cincinnati.
- Amanda Hollandsworth, Virginia Tech (182nd) –cool tidbit here, the Virginia native was the first ever commit to the Va Tech women’s golf program back in 2013. A graduate student, she is also the first woman from the Hokie’s program to qualify for the US Open which she’ll compete in later this month.
- Haylin Harris, Michigan State (n/a) –a bit of a surprise qualifier perhaps as she’s not ranked in the top-250, but she was a very-highly touted freshman (3rd in 2018 class per Golfweek). Beware the streaky golfer!
ODDS AND ENDS
-Used this tidbit last year but it holds–there’s never been a two-time NCAA individual champion. Jennifer Kupcho can change that this year, but so can Virginia Elena Carter! Something to keep an eye on.
-South Carolina is the highest ranked team (12th) to not make the championships. Similarly, Jiwon Jeon, ranked 9th for Alabama, the best player not competing this week.
-Since changing formats in 2015, the Pac-12 has won all four team titles, passing it around the league. If the trend holds look for one of the So Cal schools to win it.
-Very cool incentive starting this year as the individual champion will receive an exemption into the LPGA’s #NWAChampionship (that’s really the tourney name, I think) later this June in Rogers, Arkansas.
-San Jose State enters the week with all kinds of good karma as reports breaks that their athletic department has allegedly mishandled over $6 million in funds which were intended to fund athletic scholarships. This is the type of story I live for, and I hope the top gets blown off! Stay tuned, and as always, athletic administrators (and definitely revenue sport coaches) salaries are bloated, and athletes should be able to market their names and likenesses. And it’s all at the feet of the NCAA.
-Speaking of the NCAA, Melissa Luellen, head coach at Auburn, has her Tigers in this year’s championship. Last year I passed along the nuggets about the vacated 1988 women’s championship (team and individual titles). If you missed it, Jacob Bogage of the Chicago Tribune, details why Tulsa’s championships were revoked by the NCAA. Apparently, though, 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 won the individual title that year and 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 and I’m rooting for Luellen and her squad.
-In case you were curious about the volunteer setup, for $45 you too could volunteer. The details of what you receive are here. On paper, begrudgingly, I understand it’s a ‘good’ deal. But I also am categorically opposed to having volunteers pay money on top of their unpaid labor, flimsy reasons be damned!
-Last thing, this is in all likelihood the last time the NCAA Championships will be held outside of Greyhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, AZ. I think it’s a mistake to tether them to one spot, as I’ve greatly enjoyed the unique flair and character of each course and venue.