2005: College - Devilish double

Women's Rankings »

RankNameSchoolRating
1Alison LeeUCLA  69.59 
2Annie ParkUSC  69.73 
3Yu LiuDuke  69.81 
4Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.00 
5Gaby LopezArkansas  70.01 

Women's Team Rankings »

RankNameRatingEvents
1Southern California 70.32 
2UCLA 70.60 
3Duke 70.79 
4Stanford 71.49  10 
5Arkansas 71.52 

Sunriver, Ore.

Duke’s deliverance came as quickly as the rainbows that arched gracefully across the darkened skies, offering respite from freezing rain and gusty winds that bedeviled the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship.

The Blue Devils had entered the last six national championships No. 1 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. Yet they had walked away with the title only twice, and finished 10th and third the past two years. Top-ranked Duke again looked like it might not be a factor after spending the first two frosty days in the fifth spot.

Coach Dan Brooks’ team held it together during the final round, but Duke’s Day 3 was the difference. A blistering 6-under 278 brought the Blue Devils from nine shots back to eight in front of Auburn. Anna Grzebien’s career round of 6-under 65 couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I think we were a little bit frustrated just because we knew we could go lower,” Grzebien said of the first two rounds. “No one ever talked about it, we just knew everything would take its course if we were just patient.”

Brittany Lang closed with five birdies to post a 68 on Day 3, senior Niloufar Aazam-Zanganeh posted a 71 and freshman Jennifer Pandolfi shot 74.

Brooks advised his team to forget about Thursday’s exceptional round and focus on the finish. Auburn managed to cut the lead to four on the front nine May 20 but fizzled down the stretch. Defending champion UCLA hung around in second place but never posed a serious threat. Duke posted a 34-over 1,170 total, good for a five-shot victory over the Bruins.

Perhaps it’s only fitting that Duke won in such chilly conditions. The team chemistry could hardly be described as warm and fuzzy.

“I just feel like these gals really had, oh, some things within the team that I think challenged us,” said Brooks. “For the sake of the team, for reasons that show a lot of maturity, they pulled it together. I think we were the most united than we were all year right at the very end when we needed it the most.”

The Blue Devils didn’t prepare for the championship as a team or board the same plane to Sunriver. The Fab Five weren’t even in the same room for the after-party, where they would have been expected to celebrate not only Duke’s third national crown, but also Grzebien’s individual championship.

Not too many No. 3 players have a legitimate shot at a national title. But Grzebien is not a typical member of the Duke supporting cast. It’s hard to gain exposure behind the likes of junior Liz Janangelo, the 2004 Player of the Year, and sophomore Brittany Lang, the nation’s second-ranked player. In fact, most folks can’t even pronounce her name (Gr-ZAY-bien).

The slender strawberry blonde with a silky smooth swing wasn’t exactly the most sought-after player in her class two years ago, but she stole the show at Sunriver. And Brooks, among the first to recognize Grzebien’s talent, wasn’t surprised.

“I whispered something to her before we started, that ‘I think you know what you can accomplish here,’ ” Brooks said. “Obviously she had the same thing in mind that I did. She was fantastic.”

After Grzebien won her first title at the NCAA East Regional May 7, Brooks pointed to the “beautiful rhythm” that enables her to keep up with, and sometimes surpass, long bombers Janangelo and Lang. Grzebien’s sneaky length, combined with one of the nation’s best short games and a relatively new swing coach, proved a potent combination in Oregon.

Grzebien began working with instructor Mike Harbour (who also is head women’s coach at Brown University) over the winter break and gained immediate results. After a mediocre fall, the soft-spoken Rhode Islander collected a pair of runner-up finishes at the Betsy Rawls Invitational and ACC Championship to go along with her regional victory.

“He (Harbour) sticks with little things, and when I talk to him after the round everything is positive,” said Grzebien. “I’ve never heard him say a negative word and that just adds to the confidence I’ve built on my own.”

Duke, however, wasn’t the only team that arrived in Oregon brimming with confidence.

Third-ranked Auburn deflated a stacked Central Regional field and was tied with Pepperdine for first at the midway point of the NCAAs. California teams peppered the early leaderboard, with UCLA lurking in third and Cal-Berkeley in fourth. First-round leader Southern California, the 2003 champion, dropped to seventh after a disappointing 312 in Round 2.

Auburn coach Kim Evans tinkered with a lineup that won back-to-back titles at the SEC Championship and East Regional, pulling sophomore Jessica Lovell out and replacing her with freshman Abigale Schepperle. Evans looked downright prophetic after Schepperle paced the Tigers with an opening 1-over 72.

“I think she’s a fearless player and I felt like we needed that for nationals,” Evans said. “There was just something that told me Abigale was the one for this course.”

Diana Ramage put forth one gutsy performance after another as Auburn’s lone senior battled through Sunriver’s punishing rough. A ruptured tendon in Ramage’s left wrist made every shot painful, especially ones cutting through thick grass. Ramage opened with steady rounds of 73-71 before stumbling to a 76 on the week’s most forgiving day.

Patience, not to mention a cup of cocoa or two, was a virtue coaches preached daily in Sunriver as nerve-wracking weather constantly changed its course. Even nearby Mount Bachelor, a snowcapped wonder at 9,065 feet, failed to impress until midway through the event thanks to cloud cover. It’s remarkable that not one delay infringed play.

Teams competing in the morning on Day 4 were treated to drier conditions and temperatures that crept into the low 60s. Virginia’s Leah Wigger took advantage of the opportunity, closing with a 69 to pull within three strokes of Grzebien.

It didn’t go unnoticed that, as Wigger walked off the ninth green (her final hole), Grzebien was standing on the first tee not more than 150 yards away. The pair of sophomores also finished 1-2 at the East Regional in Gainesville, Fla.

“My short game was there,” said Wigger, who went back to her room to eat leftover lasagna and monitor live scoring. “I could have blown up, but I ended up saving par or bogey when it could be double.”

After such a pleasant morning, Grzebien could hardly believe it when hail began to fall midway through the front nine of her final round.

Nothing, however, could ice the determined Duke player. After two bogeys on the front, Grzebien gave herself some breathing room with a birdie on the par-4 12th.

Lang looked as if she might give her roommate a run with consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, but she simply ran out of holes after bogeying Nos. 14 and 16 and settled for a share of third place.

Grzebien also slipped on the 14th, and carried a one-stroke lead into the final hole though she claims she didn’t know it.

“I just put my head down and walked past the scoreboards,” said Grzebien. “I knew if I looked at it, numbers would start going and that’s not the way to play pressure golf.”

Grzebien calmly two-putted the 18th from 25 feet to finish with par and a 2-over 286 total, Grzebien gave herself some breathing room with a birdie on the par-4 12th.

Lang looked as if she might give her roommate a run with consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, but she simply ran out of holes after bogeying Nos. 14 and 16 and settled for a share of third place.

Grzebien also slipped on the 14th, and carried a one-stroke lead into the final hole though she claims she didn’t know it.

“I just put my head down and walked past the scoreboards,” said Grzebien. “I knew if I looked at it, numbers would start going and that’s not the way to play pressure golf.”

Grzebien calmly two-putted the 18th from 25 feet to finish with par and a 2-over 286 total, triggering a curt Duke celebration. Meanwhile, a disappointed UCLA squad had a tough time swallowing second.

“I just wanted them to be proud of their play today and recognize that even though they’re sad,” said coach Carrie Forsyth. “One more decent number and we’re right there.”

UCLA freshman Amie Cochran played well beyond her years in a pressure-packed final round, shooting a bogey-free 3-under 68 to finish tied with Lang. Unfortunately for the Bruins, senior Charlotte Mayorkas turned in an uncharacteristic 7-over 78 in her final tournament as an amateur.

Junior Susie Mathews, who shined with a third-place showing at last year’s championship, carded her best round of the tournament (72) on Day 4 by closing with consecutive birdies to give UCLA a 9-over 293 total. But it wasn’t enough for the second-ranked team.

Nicole Hage emerged from a sophomore slump for the Tigers, playing the last two rounds 1 under to lead Auburn with a fifth-place finish.

Schepperle, however, lost a battle with the rough on the par-5 10th, carding a devastating 9 as Auburn tumbled down the leaderboard. Ramage shot 73 in her college finale and Maria Martinez shot 74.

“The main thing I learned is how important pars are, and how important it is to be patient out there,” said Hage of her first championship appearance. “Those last few holes were awful; I couldn’t feel my hands at all.”

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