The outcome at Ruby Hills wasn’t decided until the final few holes, but it’s now official: The USC women’s golf team is this year’s Pac-12 conference champion.
“I’m just very proud that our players all contributed to our victory this week,” head coach Andrea Gaston said. “The team has been diligently practicing and preparing for our postseason, so it was nice to see all their hard work pay off.”
Bolstered by a dominant start, the No. 2 Trojans finished with a final team score of -18, 3 strokes better than second-place finisher UCLA. Ahead by 7 strokes, the Trojans knew they were close to victory as the Bruins had already wrapped up for the day. USC’s work, however, wasn’t quite finished as they still had a few holes to go.
To bring home the championship, the Trojans had to finish strong despite their team’s weakest round of the week. Though the final few holes proved challenging, USC relied on experience to stay cool under pressure and eventually clung to the lead even as the gap tightened between the crosstown rivals with each stroke.
The Trojans were among the favorites coming into the conference championship, but they knew their road to the Pac-12 title would not be an easy one. In order to claim their fourth Pac-12 crown in the last nine seasons, the Trojans had to outplay some of the toughest competition, not just on the West Coast, but in the entire country. All of the Trojans’ opponents began the match ranked in the country’s top 25 teams, as the field was comprised of No. 1 UCLA, No. 6 Stanford, No. 10 Arizona State, No. 12 Arizona, No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Cal, No. 21 Oregon and No. 25 Colorado.
“We have one of the strongest conferences in the country, and a lot of great players who can shoot low scores,” Gaston said. “When we come together at this championship, you never know which team will step up.”
Over the three-day competition at Ruby Hills in Pleasanton, California, the Trojans proved to be up for the challenge. Each of USC’s golfers finished at or under par, and all of them finished in the top 20 individual finishers at the match. Junior Gabriella Then led the Trojans with a final score of -8, good for 3rd overall in the competition. Fellow juniors Karen Chung and Tiffany Chan each finished at -3, tying them for 10th place at the end of the match. Robyn Ree, USC’s only freshman competing, finished -1, tied for 12th, while senior Kyung Kim broke even, finishing tied for 18th.
Led by Chan’s first-round score of 67, the Trojans opened the championships with a 4-stroke lead over UCLA after day one. The Trojans’ first-round team score of -10 was the best-ever single-round team performance for USC in Pac-12 Championship history, breaking the previous record of -8 set by the 2013 squad, which also went on to win the conference title.
Not to be outdone, Then posted a career-best round score of 65 with eight birdies in the second round, where the Trojans broke their single-round record for the second consecutive day. USC finished at -13 for the second round, giving them a 13-stroke stroke lead over UCLA and Arizona going into the final day.
On day three, Then, Chung and Kim all shot one-over par to lead the team to their fifth overall win this season and their first Pac-12 title since 2013. The title is USC’s sixth conference title in program history.
The women’s golf team now turns their attention ahead to the NCAA Regional Championships, which begins on May 5. The NCAA Championships will take place at the end of May in Eugene, Oregon.