No surprise: Arizona hero Haley Moore saves the day once again at NCAA Championship

Photo: Beth Ann Nichols/Golfweek

No surprise: Arizona hero Haley Moore saves the day once again at NCAA Championship

College

No surprise: Arizona hero Haley Moore saves the day once again at NCAA Championship

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Haley the hero strikes again.

It’s a scene that never gets old. Haley Moore holing a putt for all the glory, throwing down a vigorous fist-pump as her Wildcat team erupts.

When bad weather rolled in at the Blessings, halting play at the NCAA Championship for just over six hours, Moore was three down to USC’s Gabriela Ruffels, and the rest of her Arizona team didn’t look much better.

Moore took a hard nap on a bench, sleeping off the miscues. She woke up, put on her superwoman cape and birdied three of the last four holes to oust USC, the top-ranked team in the country, and keep Arizona’s dream of winning a second straight NCAA title alive.

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“I think they know that I do come in clutch,” said a smiling Moore.

Arizona coach Laura Ianello broke down crying during the post-round interview. No one deserves it more, she said.

“She’s just had a tough go and she’s always had a tough go,” said Ianello. “She’s just awesome. No one gives her a chance. She gets a lot of mean comments. A lot of mean comments. Everywhere.”

LIVE SCORES/BLOG: Team leaderboard | Blog
PHOTOS: See the images from the championship

It’s a story that unfolded after last year’s NCAA Championship, when Moore’s mom shared stories about the bullying the now 20-year-old Moore had endured growing up.

“She blocks it out,” said Ianello. “It doesn’t faze her. It fazes us.”

Not long ago Ianello was sandwiched in between Moore’s parents at graduation, bawling through the ceremony as she imagined life on the Tucson campus without her.

“I was just thinking about next year,” Ianello said. “I said ‘We’re not going to have Haley anymore,’ and I don’t know what the team is going to be like without her because she’s been such a huge force and a huge impact on her team.”

Ianello said last month’s Augusta National Women’s Amateur gave Moore a surge in confidence and helped her learn how to better manage her emotions.

After Moore missed a short putt on the fifth hole during Tuesday’s quarterfinal match, Ianello worried the wheels might be turning a bit. She reminded Moore that the last four holes are birdie holes, and that anything can happen.

Moore nodded.

“No tears, no quivering,” said Ianello. “Nothing. Totally calm.”

Ianello welcomed the long afternoon break as the Wildcats were down early to USC and momentum wasn’t shifting. The head coach didn’t need to give a pep talk. Golf Channel actually did that for her.

“They looked at their phones, they saw the coverage of (the media) saying ‘Oh Arizona is in trouble.’ Ugh, they hated it,” said Ianello. “You also realize up there in that lounge, last year’s footage was going on. They were watching themselves on TV winning a national championship. If there’s anything more motivating than that I don’t know what it is.”

The Wildcats face Duke in Wednesday’s semifinal match where Moore will square off against Jaravee Boonchant at 7:10 a.m. local time.

Moore might block out the bad along the way, but she remembers the good too. It wasn’t just the lessons learned from the pressure of a big stage that brought Moore to this moment once again.

It was the fans along the way who reached out to her, too.

“A lot of people who I didn’t know, just through social media, were just messaging me and said, ‘I watched you on TV and you’re a great inspiration to the game and young girls,’ ” said Moore.

“I think they inspired me even more just because they want to be like me, coming to a national championship and trying to win it.”

Who wouldn’t want to be like Haley? She’s a hero once more.

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