The last time USC walked off the University of Georgia Golf Course, it was with a national title in hand. The Trojans took a commanding victory out of Athens, Ga., last spring, setting the stage for a return season in which they’ve been the dominant team in women’s golf.
The Trojans claimed another trophy in Athens on April 6 after an unusual trip east to the Liz Murphey Collegiate, a long-running tournament transformed to match play this year in lieu of the 2015 format change for the NCAA Women’s Championship. The rest of the Pac-12 remained back west, many playing in the Arizona State/Ping Invitational. USC head coach Andrea Gaston, however, couldn’t pass up a return visit to Athens.
“It’s a little different than what it’s going to be for a national championship but it was good getting the taste of it,” USC head coach Andrea Gaston said of match play. “… It’s a lot of fun. Match play is a whole different dynamic because I still believe that whoever gets hot on a particular day can win. It doesn’t have to be the best team.”
Northwestern drew early-tournament attention with an 11-under 277 in stroke play. It was a program best for the Wildcats and only one shot off the course record set by USC at the 2013 national championship. Only the first 18 holes of stroke play were officially recognized by the NCAA in a team’s head-to-head record (match play will be recognized beginning next season), so Northwestern should benefit from those victories despite losing two of its three matches.
Top-ranked USC took the No. 4 seed on the eight-team red bracket and Arkansas and Alabama were second and third, respectively. In stroke play, the Trojans beat Auburn in the quarterfinals, 3-1, and knocked off N.C. State in the semifinals, 3-1. They returned Sunday to play Arkansas, ranked No. 5 by Golfweek, and won 3-2.
Sophomore Kyung Kim and and freshman Karen Chung claimed the most lopsided victories. Kim beat Gaby Lopez, 5 up, while Chung defeated Summar Roachell, 4 up. Gabby Then’s 2-up defeat of Emma Lavy was the clinching point for USC.
Gaston saw the potential for some interesting combinations, and in the finals, that included a matchup between Arkansas’ Emily Tubert, the 2010 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, and USC’s Doris Chen, the 2010 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion. Tubert won, 4 up.
Gaston’s players are well-versed in match play through U.S. Golf Association championships – her squad notably includes three USGA champions, and six Trojans competed in last summer’s U.S. Women’s Amateur.
The Liz Murphey is USC’s eighth victory this season, which is a particularly impressive feat considering the number of lineup changes USC has experienced. Inner-team competition makes the five traveling spots highly coveted. In Athens, USC even won without defending national champion Annie Park, who played the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship, and senior Sophia Popov, who stayed home to rest up for postseason.
“It’s been an amazing season. We’ve changed so many lineups,” Gaston said. “Reasoning for each of them might be different but it’s amazing how we’ve been able to come out on top. I’m thoroughly impressed with what our team has been able to do this year.”
Atypical as this week’s lineup may have been without Park and Popov, the trip ended just as it did in May – with a trophy in hand and a plateful of Korean barbecue (a team favorite) to celebrate.