WILMINGTON, N.C. – Devon Brouse has waited a long time for this moment. In fact, he waited longer than any other coach in the NCAA Women’s Championship field. The Purdue coach delivered the Big Ten Conference its first national title Friday with a nail-biting one-stroke victory over USC at the Country Club of Landfall. He may have even shed a tear.
Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, a junior Brouse DQ’d earlier this spring for unsportsmanlike conduct (i.e. throwing clubs, not trying), led the Boilermakers to victory with a 1-under 71. The hot-tempered Canadian played with incredible poise over the Dye Course, looking cool with her collar popped and birdies dropping.
“She looked calm out there,” Brouse said. “She didn’t have adverse reactions to bad shots, she just played the next one. Holy smokes, I’ve spent three years trying to get her to do that. That’s what professionals do.”
Oklahoma State’s Caroline Hedwall made good as Golfweek’s top-ranked collegian by winning the individual title. The sophomore from Sweden shot 70-70-68-68 to finish 12 under, four strokes ahead of Arizona State’s Jennifer Johnson. Hedwall plans to turn professional after the summer.
Purdue’s sizable lead on Friday was eliminated on the back as Thea Hoffmeister went from 2 under to 4 over in four holes. The 15th hole caused the Boilermakers considerable grief, but it did the same for USC as well.
Hoffmeister redeemed herself with a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to get back to 3 over, which turned out big for Purdue as freshman Laura Gonzalez-Escallon bogeyed the last two holes.
“Best birdie you’ve made in your life,” Brouse told Hoffmeister as she came over to hug him after the round.
Numa Gulyanamitta, playing in the penultimate group, received a drop from an embedded lie on No. 18 when her ball plugged in the left rough. She hacked out to a spot behind a tree and was forced to punch a 5-iron to the middle of the green. A solid two-putt later, Gulyanamitta shot 74 and Purdue held a one-shot lead with one group left to play.
LeBlanc, hot off two tremendous up-and-downs on Nos. 15 and 16, dumped her third shot into the bunker on the 18th and faced a tough lie. Meanwhile, USC’s Jennifer Song was just short of the green in two. LeBlanc blasted out to 15 feet and missed the par putt. Song had a chance to tie with a 10-foot birdie putt but left with a heartbreaking par.
“It was just really upsetting that we have to come in second place as a team and that’s how it’s going to end,” said Song, who will leave USC after two seasons to turn professional. USC coach Andrea Gaston spent a long time consoling Song behind the 18th green as bagpipes serenaded an impressively large gallery.
“She felt like it was her fault, of course,” Gaston said. “Each one of them tells me which hole they feel responsible for. I told them it’s a team loss.”
When Gaston looked at the Central Regional field several weeks ago, she felt they would face the nation’s two best teams in ASU and Purdue. The Boilermakers, in the midst of final exams, were admittedly unprepared that week and finished a distant third.
In the week between events, however, they worked exceptionally hard, sometimes 12 hours a day. Brouse, who also coaches the men’s team at Purdue, set up a battle of the sexes last week that proved tremendously motivating for his team, particularly the veterans.
“I manipulated the tees and the pins,” Brouse said. “I told them ‘If you don’t show up to play today, you’re going to get your butts kicked.’ They responded.”
After beating the Purdue men, the women’s team headed South and put together a third-round 280 that set them up beautifully for the final round.
“That round (Thursday) was everything,” Gaston said.
Four Purdue players were under par, led by Gonzalez-Escallon’s 69.
Auburn paired with Purdue’s all-international squad the first two rounds and Tigers coach Kim Evans sensed the Boilermakers had the ability to put an end to the Pac-10 party.
“I’m telling you they were right on target from the beginning,” Evans said.
Auburn was the favored SEC school entering the week, but it was Alabama that produced a school-best third-place finish. The Tide’s 286 was Friday’s low round.
Arizona State, the favorite for most of the season and the defending NCAA champs, struggled on the back nine. The Sun Devils placed a disappointing fourth.
Coming into the week, LeBlanc set a goal of having four solid rounds. She usually has one round she’d rather forget, but not this time. In fact, LeBlanc met all of the goals she set for herself (crack the top 10, finish under par).
It’s easy to have a good attitude when things are going well, but LeBlanc knows she has learned from a coach who treats his players the same way he treats his own kids.
“I’m not doing my job if I don’t help them grow,” Brouse said. “I’m not winning a popularity contest as a coach.”
LeBlanc said Brouse has taught her how to push herself, manage her time and be more disciplined. She plans to come back next year to finish her degree in psychology.
“I’m going to stay here as long as I can,” she said. “I still have a lot to learn.”