Days later, USC's rout remains mind-boggling
More than 48 hours after USC claimed victory at the NCAA Championship, it’s still hard to put into words exactly what happened at the University of Georgia Golf Course. So how about we just stick with the comment of Andrea Gaston, the victorious coach: “What we did here is just mind boggling.”
Indeed it is. The Trojans won each round and coasted to 21-shot winning margin over runner-up Duke. USC finished the championship with a 19-under 1,133 total, breaking the lowest 72-hole championship score set by UCLA in 2004 when the Bruins finished with a 4-under total.
Duke head coach Dan Brooks and his five players have to be looking back and scratching their heads in confusion. Think about it this way: The Blue Devils record the fourth-best score in NCAA Championship history, finish 19 shots better then the next best team on the scoreboard and really weren’t even a factor in the championship.
“I had a lot of fun,” Brooks said on the week in Georgia. “Number one, it was a great experience and was a lot of fun. I had a team that played with a lot of heart. They were good at staying patient, getting over shots and moving on to the next one. When you watch a team do that for four days, it’s a lot of fun.”
Finishing second and 19 shots better than third place can almost feel like winning, which eases the pain. In golf, you can only control what you can control and there was no defense against USC. No team could control what the Trojans were doing to the par-72, 6,372-yard layout. Any other year the Blue Devils likely would have been champions.
Not only was the 72-hole score a championship record, but USC’s second-round 12-under 276 was an 18-hole record and ultimately what allowed the Trojans to run away from the field. That round prompted former Georgia head coach Beans Kelly, who was strolling the grounds during the championship, to take notice.
“I want to smoke what they are smoking,” Kelly joked after learning it was a record.
USC may have gotten Kelly’s attention, but the level of competition held it. Kelly retired in 2000 after coaching for 14 years. The quality of play has changed since Kelly left. Late in Kelly’s career, breaking 300 was considered the measuring stick. The teams that posted 300 in Athens were left behind.
“It’s amazing, the quality of play,” Kelly said. “The overall core body strength and the fitness they display is a big difference. Everyone can rip it.”
No player ripped it this past week better than USC freshman Annie Park. Park, who joined the USC team during winter break, did what only one other female player has accomplished in the game’s history – win a conference title, a regional title and the NCAA title in the same season. In 1996, Arizona’s Marisa Baena, also a freshman at that time, swept the postseason.
Park’s 10-under performance and six-shot victory puts her name and game as the focal point of women’s college golf next season, along with her team. No doubt the Trojans will be preseason No. 1 with all five players expected to return next fall. With other top teams losing key players, USC may be setting the stage for another mind-boggling year beginning next fall.