NCAA Championship: Arkansas senior Maria Fassi wins individual national title

Photo: Walt Beazley, Razorbacks Athletics Communications

NCAA Championship: Arkansas senior Maria Fassi wins individual national title

College

NCAA Championship: Arkansas senior Maria Fassi wins individual national title

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Maria Fassi raised her hands in the air as she walked toward the 18th green. Calling the hogs never sounded so sweet. She was a national champion. The mayor of Fassi-ville. A Razorback legend in the making.

“I’ve told (head coach) Shauna (Estes-Taylor) I don’t know how many times that we were going to be walking down the 18th fairway holding hands, knowing that I was going to be a national champion,” said Fassi. “I had seen it in my head I don’t know how many times. I dreamed it, and it was so much better.”

After a close call in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur last month, this victory seemed poetic for the Arkanas senior. Local knowledge, coupled with her extraordinary power and a love of the stage, brought us this made-for-Fassi moment.

“There was no way anyone was going to beat her today,” said Stacy Lewis, the only other Razorback to win an NCAA title back in 2007.

Fassi, 21, teed off nearly four hours after Florida junior Sierra Brooks, who carded a wild and wacky even-par 73 to take the clubhouse lead at 4-under 215. Brooks sandwiched two back-nine double bogeys in between birdies.

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“The one that’s really stinging was No. 14,” said Brooks of her four-putt from the fringe. “I thought I hit the first putt good. It was a lot slower than I expected but there was a lot of wind. After the first one was so slow, I didn’t expect the second one to be fast. I was like ‘What is happening?’ ”

Fassi came out hot on the front nine, padding her lead before play was suspended due to severe weather. She held a three-stroke lead with six to play.

“When we came in for the rain delay, I was able to see where I was standing,” she said. “After that I was honestly just playing a smarter kind of golf – I was just looking for the easier shot.”

Course management is one area in which Lewis has seen Fassi grown. She also thinks her ability to embrace the big stage puts in her a league above her peers. Fassi lives for this.

She ultimately closed with a bogey-free 5-under 68 to finish four strokes clear of Brooks.

“Like I’ve said all week, she thrives when the spotlight is on,” said Estes-Taylor, “and I think that’s what she did today. This golf course played as tough as I’ve seen it in a very long time, maybe ever, with 30-mile-an-hour winds, and to shoot what she shot was very impressive.”

Arkansas senior Maria Fassi and head coach Shauna Estes-Taylor at the 2019 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf National Championship. (Photo: Casey Ceman, ANNIKA Foundation)

Lewis watched Fassi’s “Woo Pig Sooie” finish as she put her daughter Chesnee to bed. The former World No. 1 couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

Fassi coming back for a final semester, deferring her rookie season on the LPGA for six months, meant the world to Lewis and the greater Fayetteville area.

“It’s going to have an impact that goes on for years,” Lewis said.

While stroke-play hasn’t officially ended at the Blessings, Arkansas will qualify for match play for the first time since the championship format was changed in 2015.

Lewis says the home-course advantage here counts for three to four strokes per round. That’s 10-12 strokes over three rounds multiplied by four counting scores.

“It’s a lot,” she said.

With the victory, Fassi receives two LPGA sponsor exemptions – the NW Arkansas Championship, hosted down the road from here in Rogers, and the Marathon Classic. She’ll make her professional debut later this month at the U.S. Women’s Open in Charleston, S.C. Last week it was announced that Fassi also received a spot in the Evian Championship as last year’s ANNIKA Award winner. She should be a lock for this year’s award as well, which is voted on by players, coaches and media.

Fassi looks back on her close call at the ANWA – where she gained as many if not more fans than winner Jennifer Kupcho – as a blessing of sorts. She now believes that finishing second taught her more than winning ever could. It fueled the fire that led to an SEC individual title and prepared her for the most pressure-packed collegiate event of her life – the regional tournament that gave Arkansas a spot at the national championship.

“This means way more than the Augusta Women’s Amateur,” said Fassi. “Not because of the NCAA or Augusta or whatever … because this is home to me. I mean, it doesn’t get any better.”

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