STILLWATER, Okla. – With one round in the books, a pair of 2017 contenders are treading water. Don’t cue the panic yet, though.
Arizona State, the defending national champion, fired a 26-over 314 in Friday’s opening round of the NCAA Championship to find itself in 22nd in the 24-team field. Perennial contender Stanford, fresh off a victory at the NCAA San Francisco Regional, wasn’t a good deal better – posting 20-over 308 to sit in a tie for 16th.
The Cardinal doesn’t have a single player in the top 50 (Shannon Aubert and Albane Valenzuela are both T-51 at 4 over). Arizona State has just two players (Sophia Zeeb in a tie for 35th at 3 over and Olivia Mehaffey, T-68 at 5 over) in the top 75.
Certainly unexpected, but it’s only been 18 holes. There won’t be a top-15 cut for another 36, and both teams could have 54 holes to jump into the top eight and reach match play.
If anyone is sounding the alarms, it’s certainly not inside either program.
Anne Walker, Stanford’s head coach, actually took great pride in how her team performed on Friday.
“We were literally 20 over after six (holes) and we finished at 20 over. So when we look at that and how that shakes out, I think there was a lot of fight there,” said Walker, who led the Cardinal to a national title in 2015. “As a coach, I always tell these guys, there’s going to be tough days on the golf course, but how you respond and your attitude on those days, that’s all I care about. And today I’m so proud of the way they handled themselves.”
Just one Stanford player (Aubert) broke 40 on the front nine at Karsten Creek Golf Club, but three posted par or better on the back.
Among the most impressive fights came from Andrea Lee. The star sophomore opened her NCAA Championship in, uhh, interesting fashion.
Lee double bogeyed the par-4 second after four-putting from 30 feet, three-putted the following hole for a bogey, bogeyed the fourth as well and was 5 over by the time she bogeyed the sixth.
“Right off the bat, it was rough,” Lee said, with a laugh.
But she dug in. Lee parred her next 10 holes, bogeyed the 17th and made her only birdie of the day at the 18th – a closing red figure that gave her a sigh of relief.
“I’m really proud of the way I was able to hang in there,” said Lee, tied for 68th after an opening 77. “I finished really strong.”
A similar story can be told on the Sun Devils’ side.
Arizona State’s counting starters combined to go 18 over on the front nine. Two of the Sun Devils’ starting five made a quintuple-bogey 10 on the par-5 ninth.
Those big numbers played a role in shaking the Sun Devils early, but they relaxed on the back nine and played better. Still, it was a learning curve of an opening day.
“We got a little beat up today,” said Missy Farr-Kaye, Arizona State’s head coach. “This is an incredibly difficult golf course, and there is an awful lot to learn on this golf course. My goal is that we hold our heads high and that we come back tomorrow poised, confident and ready to fight back.”
Farr-Kaye hopes that Saturday’s early tee time will allow her team to not stew in Friday’s performance. She added that the fact this is a difficult layout makes it easier to jump up the board with a good round.
She feels the only mistakes are the ones you don’t learn from. And with a group that has played tough under the pressure of being defending national champions and dealing with injuries, she’s optimistic of a Saturday charge.
“I know this team is capable of a lot,” she said. “And a better day tomorrow, I feel pretty good about.”
As for Walker, she said she would project a similar message of optimism heading into Round 2.
“I’m going to tell them they played great today,” Walker said. “They played 15 unbelievable golf holes and we just got off to a slow start. We’ll fix that tomorrow.”