Capping off another successful season in dramatic fashion, the USC women’s golf team fell one shot short of a title at the NCAA championships on Friday. It marked the closest finish since 1996, when the winner was determined through a tiebreak.
“It’s a terrible feeling to lose by one shot,” USC coach Andrea Gaston said. “We go into every tournament wanting to win, so this was really tough.”
The No. 3 Women of Troy held the lead in the first two rounds of tournament play, but No. 7 Purdue overtook the top spot on the third day of play. Going into the third round on Thursday, USC was ahead by seven strokes, but by the end of the day, they had fallen behind by seven strokes.
Purdue held onto the lead for the remainder of the tournament, though USC cut the lead to one stroke in the final round. The team seemed poised to rally and regain the lead on the final day, but its efforts came up just short of victory.
“It was difficult for the team to not see their goals come true,” Gaston said.
Sophomore and All-American first team member Jennifer Song missed a 12-foot birdie on the final hole, which would have forced a playoff. Had she eagled the final hole, USC would have clinched the national title.
“Jennifer gave us a chance to tie. The putt just didn’t go down,” Gaston said. “This wasn’t on anybody’s shoulder. All of us left some shots out there.”
USC’s lead fell out of grasp in the third round when the team struggled on the front nine holes and never quite fully recovered. Nonetheless, the team combined for 1,154 strokes during four total rounds of play, a school record. Comparatively, the 2008 championship team combined for 1,168 strokes.
Song’s individual 5-under par score tied her for fifth place overall at the title match. Playing her last season as a Trojan, Song leaves as the all-time leader in rounds in the 60s and a school record holder in stroke average with 71.55, her freshman year average.
Her tie for fifth also marked the 12th time a USC women’s golfer has finished in the top 5 of the NCAA championships.
The winner of the individual tournament was Oklahoma State’s Caroline Hedwall, who finished with a 12-under par 276. Finishing second was Arizona State’s Jennifer Johnson. Following her were Purdue’s Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Auburn’s Cydney Clanton, LSU’s Megan McChrystal and Song.
For USC, senior Belen Mozo finished in 21st place overall and shot a team-best 71 on Friday, while junior and All-American second teamer Lizette Salas placed 27th overall. Freshman Cyna Rodriguez matched Mozo’s 71 on Friday, a nice recovery from her shaky third round in which she shot an 83. She finished in 33rd place after ending the third round in 41st place.
Sophomore Inah Park finished in 86th place, playing her strongest round of the competition on Friday — including a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole — to finish with a score of 74.
Battling Purdue and Arizona State, USC was a member of the tournament’s lead group for the third year in a row, and the fifth time since 2003. The second place finish also marked the sixth time in eight years the Women of Troy placed in the top four.
With Song and Mozo leaving the team next season, Gaston said the focus now shifts to recruiting and integrating new players.
“Our remaining three girls are going to be instrumental in acclimating the new recruits,” she said. “We have to learn to be resilient and maybe better people as a result.”