By Lisa Antonucci
Walla Walla, Wash.
It was a bittersweet ending for the Arizona Wildcats at this year’s Pac-10 Championship. After nine starts and three second-place finishes this season, No. 6 Arizona won its first team title of the year April 24, beating UCLA by eight shots. Ironically, it also was the first time this year the Wildcats’ No. 1 player, sophomore Lorena Ochoa, did not win an individual title.
After seven consecutive individual victories, Ochoa’s streak came to an end at Walla Walla Country Club. The No. 1 player in college golf came up one stroke short of Arizona State sophomore Jimin Kang.
Kang, who finished second to Ochoa two weeks prior at the Ping/ASU Invitational, shot 72-74-70 to finish even par for the tournament and secure individual honors for the second time this year.
“It was a very hard day for me,” said a teary-eyed Ochoa, who shot a final-round 72. “I was very inconsistent, it’s not the way I usually play. But I never gave up, so I’m happy about that.”
After opening with 72-73, Ochoa started her final round one shot ahead of Kang and two shots behind leader Yvonne Choe, a freshman at UCLA. She also was tied with playing partner Mikaela Parmlid, a junior at Southern California fresh off her first college victory one week earlier. Ochoa slowly jockeyed into position at the top of the leaderboard as Choe slipped to a 4-over 76. Parmlid briefly pulled ahead, thanks to three birdies in her first six holes, but a costly five-putt triple bogey on No. 7 dropped Parmlid back even with Ochoa.
Meanwhile, Kang, playing six groups ahead, was fighting her own battle. Two over for the tournament and even for the day, Kang caught a peek at the leaders’ standardbearer while heading down the 16th fairway and realized she was still only two shots behind.
“I thought, ‘Those girls are even; I’m 2 over, but I still have three holes to go,’ ” said Kang, ranked No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index. “So I thought, ‘Yes! I still have a chance.’ ”
Despite having made bogey at 15, Kang refocused and birdied Nos. 16 and 18 to finish at even par. Then came the wait.
Kang spent the next hour watching the scoreboard, sitting on the clubhouse porch and chatting with her mother and friends. When the leaders finally made their way to the 18th hole, Kang stood quietly with her teammates and watched. Ochoa and Parmlid were 1 over coming to the green, but Parmlid three-putted to finish third and Ochoa’s birdie putt came up more than 1-foot short.
“It’s golf,” said Kang, 22. “No one knows until the last hole, so I just tried my best. . . . I knew I could win it. It’s not just beating Lorena, it’s being up there on top of the leaderboard.”
By the 16th tee, Ochoa had heard Kang was in the clubhouse at even par, and thanks to birdies at Nos. 9 and 10, Ochoa also was at even. She knew she needed three pars to tie – a birdie to win – but an errant swing on No. 17 left her short of the green and in a divot, and she took a bogey.
Ochoa’s Arizona coach and teammates were happy to look at the bright side for her. The Wildcats’ third consecutive Pac-10 title came with their seventh different lineup this year, but it’s a lineup coach Greg Allen believes can win a national championship trophy. Arizona junior Laura Myerscough also said she believed Ochoa’s loss could be “a blessing in disguise.”
“The pressure is finally off her,” said Myerscough, who tied for fourth. “I think it will actually motivate her more going into regionals and nationals.”
Ochoa admitted she was tired after a busy spring that has included four college tournaments, three LPGA events (including two top-10 finishes) and a victory at the Mexican Amateur.
“I tried to rest, but it was very hard because I knew I still had these tournaments coming up,” said Ochoa, who has 11 individual college titles, tying her for fourth all-time with Nancy Lopez. (Juli Inkster holds the record with 17.)
“I knew it would be hard to win here because everyone wanted to beat me, but now the pressure is gone. I just want to enjoy the next two tournaments.”