WOLCOTT, Colo. – Haley Moore had a little bit of everything in her closing 71. Two eagles, four birdies, two bogeys, a double, a triple and eight pars. Her eight-shot lead shrunk to one with two to play, but she didn’t know it.
Arizona coach Laura Ianello told Moore on the 14th tee that she a huge lead (it was only two strokes) and to make birdies for the team.
Moore made several clutch par saves down the stretch and holed a 14-foot uphill putt for eagle on the 18th hole to win the Golfweek Conference Challenge by three strokes. Elsa Moberly (65) of Eastern Kentucky and Central Arkansas’ Emma Svensson (66) tied for second.
“I feel relieved,” said a smiling Moore, who finished 7-under 209 for the tournament.
After the first two days produced a revolving door of leaders, Denver grabbed hold of it and didn’t let go in the final round, clinching the team title by two strokes over Pepperdine. The Pioneers were led by senior Lauren Whyte of St. Andrews, Scotland, who carded a 2-under 70 in the final round and tied for 11th overall.
Whyte, a co-captain, said winning a fall tournament was among the team’s season goals. They’re also eyeing a top-25 ranking and adopted the hashtag #roadtostillwater. The 2018 NCAA Championship, of course, will be played in Stillwater, Okla., next May.
“We all love this golf course,” said Whyte. “It’s all about the greens.”
With head coach Lindsay Kuhle out on maternity leave, second-year assistant Kolton Lapa took over in August as interim coach. It didn’t take long for Lapa to taste victory, as the Pioneers won in their second event of the season.
“I thought Golfstat would never load the end,” said an anxious Lapa of the tight finish.
Denver closed with a 1-over 289 to finish at 8-over 872 for the tournament. Pepperdine closed with a 4-under 284 to finish solo second. Campbell placed third, one stroke ahead of Arizona.
Kuhle, who gave birth to son Jordan seven weeks ago, made the drive from Denver with her family earlier in the week but was home for the finish. While she was in touch with the team throughout the tournament, Lapa said she’s been really hands-off this fall. Whyte was tickled to receive a congratulatory video from Kuhle’s newborn son.
In the spring of 2016, Lapa finished up his collegiate career at Arizona. He had a 74.81 scoring average his senior season and a pair of top-10s. Even before Wednesday’s victory at Red Sky Ranch, Lapa knew that coaching was his calling.
“This is something I want to do for the rest of my life,” he said.
Denver opened its season at the Dick McGuire Invitational and knocked off four-top 25 teams in its sixth-place showing. They’ll have a chance to tick off a second goal for the season next week: win their home tournament, the Ron Moore Women’s Intercollegiate.
Arizona’s Moore now has two career titles as she won the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate last season. Ianello said Moore came to Tucson already a fantastic ball-striker. She has improved in particular around the greens, adding a variety of shots to her arsenal. She’d like to continue to see Moore work on her mental game, though the grit she showed in Colorado on Wednesday impressed.
“Today was great example of how she’s gotten mentally stronger,” said Ianello. “She wasn’t hyperventilating (after the triple on No. 12). I didn’t have to say calm down.”