TULSA, Okla. – Andrea Gaston, in her 18th season at the head of the USC women’s golf program, has brought her top-ranked team to Tulsa Country Club in search of a repeat victory. No team has won consecutive titles since Duke won three from 2005-07.
On paper, the Trojans are a heavy favorite, right? USC swept the fall season, winning all four starts. In the spring, USC added another five titles to make it nine wins in 12 starts.
The Trojans have lost to just six teams all season, and three of those losses came during an 18-hole stroke-play qualifying round that had the sole purpose of seeding teams for match play at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic. The Trojans eventually won match play, despite not having two of their top players that week.
At first glance, it appears this is another one of those years – one that we are so used to seeing in the women’s game. The usual suspects contend and often win the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship.
There is an elite foursome in the women’s game made up of USC, UCLA, Duke and Arizona State, and three of those four programs are clear favorites this week. They occupy the top three spots in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. UCLA and Duke join the Trojans as favorites this week, and smart gamblers would give you the field without thinking twice.
Add sixth-ranked Arizona State to the mix and that accounts for 10 of the past 12 NCAA winners, and 18 of the past 24.
Is it possible to have an unusual suspect win this week? Sure, anything’s possible. Oh wait – that’s next year when this event switches format from stroke play to match play to decide the winner.
If an under-the-radar team wins in Tulsa, which team might it be?
How about Oklahoma? The Sooners have a veteran squad with four seniors who have experienced a lot of winning in their careers. They might be the most comfortable playing in this environment, too. The Sooners’ campus in Norman, Okla., is only 120 miles from Tulsa.
A pair of SEC contenders also need to be mentioned. Vanderbilt is another team who arguably playing as well as any team in the country. Fresh off a 14-shot victory at the East Regional and an 11-shot victory at the SEC Championship, the Commodores have won four times and placed second in six spring events. South Carolina would need nearly a perfect week, but at times have looked capable. The Gamecocks have finished second to Vanderbilt in each of those events.
Two others you can’t dismiss are Washington and Stanford. Stanford was able to beat USC and UCLA to win the Pac-12 Championship and gain a little momentum, but finished fifth at the NCAA East Regional. Washington has recorded eight top-three finishes and is very comfortable playing against the favorites.
Those five schools have never won a championship and could legitimately win this week. You could even put Arizona and Alabama in this mix – two teams that have won a national title before – but it would be considered a bit of an upset if they end up with the lowest score after 72 holes.
History tells us it’s almost certain that this year’s winner will be one of the teams mentioned above. History also tells us that you probably didn’t even have to read very far to know that the team taking home the trophy will most likely be one of the top three in college golf.