After missing the NCAA title by one stroke apiece in two of the last three seasons, the USC women’s golf team ensured the same would not happen in 2013. The squad posted the low score in each round of the NCAA championship tournament — a feat that has not happened since the tournament began in 1982 — en route to an NCAA record 19-under-par finish and the national championship.
USC freshman Annie Park dominated on the course, capturing the individual crown with a finish at 10-under. She is just the seventh freshman to win an individual title at the NCAA tournament, and the fourth Trojan to do so in tournament history.
Park, a first-year player from Levittown, N.Y., was aware of the pressure on her as a freshman but not phased by it.
“College tournaments are different than junior tournaments,” Park said. “I’ve known that since my first collegiate tournament. Over the semester I’ve improved a lot with the help of the coaches and the trainers — a lot more than I expected.”
Park was also named player and freshman of the year by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association, capping off a dream season that included the individual NCAA title and helping the Women of Troy capture seven consecutive top-five tournament finishes, including the NCAA West Regional and the Pac-12 championship.
Major factors in Park’s road to victory at the NCAA tournament were the commanding lead she established early and her nerves of steel in the final round. Though not every hole was a complete success — Park went bogey, double bogey, bogey on holes 15 through 17 — she kept her composure and matched bogey for birdie to finish 10 strokes under par, six strokes ahead of the second-place finisher.
“I just tried to focus on each shot, focus on the present and not look too far ahead,” Park said. “The course was not an easy golf course. I think I had an advantage because I hit far off the tee; on par fives I was able to reach the green when others had to use wedges to get onto the green.”
Of course, the NCAA team title would not be possible with a strong effort from only one player. The rest of the Trojan squad stepped up in a big way, with all five competitors finishing in the top 20. Freshman Kyung Kim and junior Sophia Popov tied for sixth place at 1-over, sophomore Doris Chen placed 15th at 4-over and junior Rachel Morris finished 17th at 5-over.
While senior leadership is a key aspect of most teams, the Women of Troy are a very young team that build one another up regardless of the situation.
“All of us get along well,” Park said of her teammates. “We’re so close on and off the course, we try to help one another. We play together, eat together and hang out together outside of campus. We know we need to play our best for the team score.”
With such a young team, USC figures to be a contender both next year and in the years to follow. All of the participants in the 2013 NCAA tournament will return for the 2014 season, and fresh faces will join the team in hopes of adding to the legacy this year’s squad established.
“We’re going to try to do what we’ve done this semester each day, each tournament, each shot,” Park said. “We’ll have two new top-ranked freshman and we know we’ll be good for the next few years.”
The win in this year’s tournament marks program’s third national championship, all of which occurred under head coach Andrea Gaston. More broadly, the USC women’s golf championship became the 98th national championship in USC’s history as USC continues the journey to the three-digit mark in the 2013-14 school year.