Pepperdine wins Conference Challenge
Coach Laurie Gibbs joins Asher Wildman to break down Pepperdine’s victory at Golfweek's Conference Challenge.
PRIMM, Nev. – The conclusion of Golfweek’s Conference Challenge was so close it was almost anti-climactic. Rather than running onto the green for a giant hug-fest, three teams – Pepperdine, Chattanooga and California – stood around and looked at one another.
So who won?
When the math was over, Taylore Karle’s all-world par on the 18th hole Tuesday gave Pepperdine a one-stroke victory over California. Chattanooga’s Christine Wolf drained a 25-footer to put the Mocs in third, two strokes shy of what would have been the program’s biggest victory.
“They just looked a lot more mature,” said Pepperdine coach Laurie Gibbs, who had five freshmen on last year’s squad.
Pepperdine carded an even-par 288 over Primm Valley’s Desert Course for three-day total of 881. The Waves entered the final round three strokes behind Chattanooga, which closed with a 293. Cal shot 290.
Oklahoma State’s Caroline Hedwall ran away with the individual race with rounds of 68-72-67 for a 9-under 207 total and wire-to-wire victory. UC Irvine’s Joy Trotter finished five shots back at 212.
Hedwall, a powerful Swede, was bogey-free in her final round. The Cowgirls will rely significantly on Hedwall this season, and it’s a role she relishes.
“I’m more like a leader,” Hedwall said. “People didn’t really expect that much of me last year.”
While the individual race had little drama, the team race went down to the last hole. Karle’s second shot on the par-5 18th hit a tree and dropped down into the rough. Her ball was positioned just in front of a plant on a sidehill lie. She chopped out and her ball raced over the back of the green.
Golfweek Conference Challenge: Take 5
Karle’s downhill chip shot nestled 7 feet from the pin, and she drained her putt to make it 18 consecutive pars.
“It was good to close the deal,” said Karle, who spent quite a bit of time on her short game this summer..
Karle said her team’s performance at the Conference Challenge was a reflection of a Waves team that’s beginning to gel.
“It feels like this year everyone is together,” Karle said. “Last year there were separate clans.”
Martine de Gannes posted the Waves’ low round, 2-under 70. Kaitlin Drolson added a 72 and Lisa McCloskey posted 74, despite a triple-bogey on the par-4 14th.
The Waves won three times last season and finished ninth at the NCAA Championship. Four players from that lineup competed this week in Primm.
After the awards ceremony, Cal’s Pia Halbig took the runner-up trophy and handed it off to her coach.
“It’s all yours,” she said.
The Bears smiled for the camera, but second rarely satisfies.
Over at the Chattanooga table, the only thing they walked away with was a round of applause.
“They’re disappointed right now,” said Mocs coach Colette Murray. “We made some silly mistakes that cost us.”
The Mocs made several bogeys down the stretch, which Murray attributes to poor short games. This won’t be the only time Chattanooga meets strong teams in the regular season as Murray’s schedule is a good mixture of moderate to tough competition. She wants her players to learn from stronger teams like Pepperdine, but she also wants them to learn how to win.
Murray said it took her team all of last year to get comfortable playing alongside the top programs.
“We’ve got to step it up around these teams,” she said. “They don’t have a whole lot more than we do other than a name.”
• Harvard, a team that finished last season ranked 89th, tied for seventh with UNLV. This marks the only time this fall that the Crimson will travel outside the Northeast.
While final exams have wreaked havoc on Harvard in the past at NCAA regionals, their academic calendar has changed this spring. Perhaps they can relax a little more in the postseason as a result.
• Ohio State (fourth) and UC Irvine (sixth) posted the day’s lowest round, 2-under 286. The Buckeyes finished only three strokes out of first place, getting a big boost from North Carolina transfer Allie White.
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