BRYAN, Texas – This wasn’t how it was supposed to end – a dramatic finish zapped by a scorecard snafu. Purdue and UCLA traded the lead throughout the back nine of the NCAA Championship May 21 and for the second consecutive year, it looked as though the tournament might be decided on the 72nd hole.
Then, in the midst of a welcomed moment of heightened suspense, Purdue coach Devon Brouse walked behind the 18th green and informed several members of the media that Thea Hoffmeister had just been disqualified. And just like that, the balloon popped. UCLA won its first NCAA crown since 2004.
With Hoffmeister’s 75 thrown out for signing an incorrect scorecard, Purdue had to count Maude-Aimee LeBlanc’s 77. UCLA’s lead stretched to four strokes as the last groups came down the18th. Hoffmeister walked up to Brouse, wrapped her arms around his neck and sobbed loudly.
“You shouldn’t have to teach that lesson more than once,” said Brouse. Indeed, it’s a mistake Hoffmeister won’t make again. Luckily, UCLA’s four-stroke victory makes it seem as though, in the end, those two strokes didn’t matter.
But, Brouse had encouraged LeBlanc to go for the par-5 18th in two, thinking they had Hoffmeister in at 75. LeBlanc pulled her second shot left and wound up making bogey. Brouse also noted that when the final two groups came up the 18th and saw the UCLA team arm in arm while the Boilermakers had their chins buried, it undoubtedly shifted the pressure points.
“Sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” said Brouse, who brought the same starting five that won last year’s championship. “We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves.”
For UCLA coach Carrie Forsyth, this marks her second national championship and sixth title of the season. The Bruins finished at 21-over 1,173, four ahead of Purdue and eight ahead of LSU. Ani Gulugian led the Bruins with even-par 72, while Stephanie Kono and Lee Lopez added 2-over 74s on a day thick in humidity and a round short on light.
Top teams returned to the course early Saturday morning to complete the third round and then returned to their hotels for a significant amount of downtime. The final group teed off at 3:09 p.m., and Forsyth wasn’t the only coach who worried play might have to continue into Sunday.
Shortly after Tiffany Lua closed out her 75 to finish tied for fourth, the tears started flowing. UCLA assistant coach Alicia Um couldn’t see her phone to Tweet her eyes were so moist. After a long group hug, players grabbed their cell phones and called home.
“It feels like a dream,” said Kono. “There were so many emotions. We led the entire week but with every day if felt like our goal was so close but so far.”
2.) Freshman sensation: LSU freshman Austin Ernst could have struggled to get to sleep Friday night. She had fallen from her perch atop the leaderboard on a rainy day at Traditions Club, and had three shots to make up on individual leader Tiffany Lua of UCLA to pull off one of the greatest feats in school history.
Instead, Ernst was out like a light after chowing down on an Outback Steakhouse meal – one of her favorites – delivered by head coach Karen Bahnsen. Despite being a freshman, Ernst is relaxing in her own room this week after she developed a cough early in the week and roommate Megan McChrystal fled to another room.
Ernst put the finishing touches on a 5-over 77 beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, then came out of the gate firing for the final round, going 3 under in the first three holes. She got a big boost from a hole out at the par-3 second, which was especially satisfying after watching Lua make an ace at No. 12 in Round 3. Her 6-under 66 (the second 66 she has shot this week) put her at 7-under 281 for the tournament and three shots ahead of Arkansas senior Kelli Shean.
Ernst is the first player in LSU history to win the individual title at the national championship, but as the sun went down Saturday evening, still wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
“I honestly don’t think its hit me, don’t know if it will anytime soon,” she said, nearly speechless as she marched from one interview to the next. “I don’t even know. Basically just a lot of hard work. I know it’s been right there and I came in very confident.”
Ernst also boosted LSU to third as a team, another program best.
3.) Under mom’s eye: It’s taken four years for Dianne Shean to watch her daughter Kelli play a round of collegiate golf, but she was on hand for the final round of the NCAA Championship as Kelli made a run at the national title.
The Arkansas senior said she struggled early week as she tried to find her bearings on the greens at Traditions. Everything clicked in the final round as Shean gave chase to Ernst with a final-round 68.
“It all came down to putting,” Shean said at the end of the round. “… In the first round, I was just scared of this course.”
Even though Shean fell short of the individual title, the round gives her a good feeling for the beginning of a pro career. Shean isn’t sure when exactly, but she plans to turn pro later this summer.
“It just makes me feel good about where I’m going next.”
4.) A little redemption: Favorites USC, the top-ranked team in the country, and Alabama took a tumble down the leaderboard in the opening two rounds of the national championship but managed to score a little redemption during the second half of the week.
USC shaved 10 shots in the third round for a 4-over 292, then returned a 294 in the final round to finished at 38-over 1,190 for the championship. That bumped them into a tie for fifth with Arkansas.
Alabama was three shots back and in a tie for eighth with North Carolina after posting a final-round 292. It was the best score of the week for the Crimson Tide.
5.) Getting a little ridiculous: When all was said and done in Bryan, five players had recorded a hole-in-one. All five aces came in Rounds 3 and 4.
Lua and Coastal Carolina’s Courtney Boe holed out at No. 11 in Round 3 while Virginia’s Brittany Altomare made an ace at No. 16.
During the final round, Ernst’s hole out at the second was followed by an ace from North Carolina’s Jackie Chang at the same hole.