Stackhouse looks like old self in leading Stanford to first NCAA title

Stackhouse looks like old self in leading Stanford to first NCAA title

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Stackhouse looks like old self in leading Stanford to first NCAA title

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BRADENTON, Fla. – There was hesitation when Stanford head coach Anne Walker set her lineup Tuesday for the national-title match at Concession Golf Club. Walker rolled out her top three players automatically, but when it came time to match Baylor’s No. 4 player in the fourth match out, Walker juggled the two names left in her hands a few extra seconds before she decided.

Walker revisited that decision Wednesday in the aftermath of the Cardinal’s first national title in program history.

“At the end of the day, I couldn’t envision having anyone else in that anchor spot than Mariah,” Walker said of junior Mariah Stackhouse, who fought back from a two-hole deficit on the 17th tee to force an extra hole that she won with par.

Stanford and Baylor had two points apiece by the time Stackhouse reached the 17th tee in her match against Baylor’s Hayley Davis. Even worse, Davis has just completed a miraculous up-and-down, including a shot from a hazard as her feet sank into the mud. Stackhouse won No. 17 with a two-putt birdie, No. 18 with a 15-footer for birdie and the 10th with a routine par.

Stackhouse was Walker’s gut decision, and it was a good one because Stackhouse is made for moments like these. She thrives in team situations.

A year ago while competing for the U.S. Curtis Cup team, Stackhouse huddled her team on the first morning to get everyone in the right frame of mind.

“She gave some inspiring words on the first tee and we’re all like, ‘Mariah for president,’ ” captain Ellen Port said. Port spent a good part of that week marveling at how articulate Stackhouse was, and how much passion streamed from her small frame.

One morning, Port gave the team a chance to sleep in, knowing that Stackhouse had a paper to finish. But Stackhouse stayed up until 5 a.m. to get it done, snoozed until 11 a.m. with the rest of the team and woke up ready to go. Port also remembers the time Stackhouse rapped the children’s rhyme Old MacDonald with teammate Ally McDonald, and called Stackhouse the best dancer on the team.

“She knows how to be a friend and say the right thing at the right time and to be just hysterical, and that’s a really unique blend for a person,” Port said.

That week at St. Louis (Mo.) Country Club, so many little girls trailed Stackhouse’s group that Merilee Giddings, an NCAA rules official who works with the Atlanta Junior Golf Association, took to calling her the pied piper. Stackhouse, of Riverdale, Ga., talked to them all.

“She never meets a stranger,” Giddings said.

Giddings first met Stackhouse when she was about 8 years old, and watched as her game progressed rapidly. By the time she was 14, Stackhouse’s game had advanced to the point that she was “too good for us,” Giddings said jokingly. But after Stanford took a team picture on the 10th green Wednesday evening, Stackhouse made a beeline for Giddings to give a big hug. She hasn’t forgotten her roots.

From Ken Stackhouse’s perspective, the evening played out exactly the way a parent would envision it. Ken spent many a summer shepherding a young Mariah across the country, to this junior tournament, that swing lesson, all with the idea to provide his daughter with all of the tools.

“You hope and you pray, and the moment comes and it just happens,” he said. He practically vibrated with energy after his daughter’s match was over.

Ken Stackhouse said his daughter went into survivor mode on those final three holes. The way her mind works, she was thinking only of getting to a playoff.

With so much accomplished already, will Stackhouse return to Stanford for her senior year? There doesn’t seem to be much question that she will. From the beginning, Stackhouse always said there would not only be college, but four years of it.

“We would not have looked kindly on that,” Ken Stackhouse said of the possibility of his daughter’s leaving Stanford early.

Besides, Stackhouse loaded her class schedule this year to set herself up for a more manageable senior season, one during which she can concentrate on golf. Ken Stackhouse says the overloaded school schedule was one reason why her junior season didn’t pan out as expected.

“It was a struggle for her academically and athletically,” he said.

Part of the reason Stanford struggled this season is its star player didn’t fire on all cylinders. That Stackhouse ended a down season on such a high note bodes well for next season.

“I’ve never been more excited about a couple of finishing holes,” Stackhouse said of the final match. “I was like, We’ve worked hard for this all year. It’s do or die. There are two holes left. You’ve got to get through to even have an opportunity to win the championship.

Had teammate Lauren Kim faced such pressure, she said she would have been in tears.

“I just couldn’t watch,” she said. “I couldn’t look. I was getting really nervous and trying to stay calm for my teammates, also, but then like inside I was just shaking.”

Stanford returns its entire team next year. Just as importantly, Stackhouse looks like herself again.

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