On Tuesday, No. 1 Stanford women’s golf lost to No. 5 USC in the NCAA semifinals, bringing the team’s quest for a second consecutive championship to an end.
The Cardinal displayed historic dominance throughout the season, led by sophomore Rose Zhang and her second consecutive individual NCAA title this week. But the team did not play its best golf against USC, and the Trojans seized the opportunity, winning 3-1 at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. Despite close matches, Stanford never built momentum and failed to lead as the opponents played the back nine.
In the opening match, freshman Kelly Xu took on USC’s Catherine Park, who finished runner-up to Zhang in the individual Championship the previous day. Xu took an early lead, shooting 1-under par through 8 holes and going 3-up. But Xu’s double bogey on the par-4 9th, followed by bogeys on three of the next four holes, evened the match. Xu then steadied herself, matching Park’s birdie on the par-4 14th hole and parring the next three to win the match 2 & 1, putting a Cardinal point on the board.
The next match pitted freshman Megha Ganne against Cindy Kou. The latter came out firing, with four birdies on the front nine, building a 3-up lead. However, Ganne chipped away at the lead, with birdies on the par-4 10th and and par-5 11th holes. When Kou bogeyed the par-4 12th, the match was tied. Ultimately, Ganne could not recover from bogeys on par-4 No.15 and par-3 No.16, and when Kou birdied the par-4 17th hole she came away with a 2 & 1 victory, tying the overall score at 1-apiece.
In the third match, senior Brooke Seay played the Trojans’ Christine Wang. Seay, whose clutch 205-yard second shot to the par-5 18th green helped seal last year’s semifinal win, was undefeated in NCAA match play. Going into this year’s tournament, however, she was coming off an injury. Seay battled Wang throughout, and the pair was tied after 12 holes. But Wang’s birdie on the par-3 13th followed by Seay’s bogey on No.14 gave Wang a two-hole lead. Seay tried mightily to fight back, but her birdie putts on Nos. 15 and 17 fell just short. When both players parred the 17th hole, the match was over, again by a 2 & 1 score.
The Trojans were now one point from victory, but sophomore Sadie Englemann had been leading throughout her match with USC’s Amari Avery. Englemann was 3-under par after nine holes, taking a 4-up lead. She was three ahead after 15, before Avery won the next two holes to narrow Englemann’s lead to one as they approached the 18th tee.
In the anchor match, Zhang, one day removed from her individual championship, had a rare off-afternoon after winning her morning quarterfinal match comfortably. Against the Trojans’ Brianna Navarrosa, Zhang opened with a double bogey to fall behind immediately. After bogeying four of the final holes on the first nine, she was down by three.
Zhang showed her resilience by raising her game late in the match. Her birdie on the 14th hole narrowed Navarrosa’s lead to two holes. But Navarrosa, who played a steady back nine, matched Zhang’s birdie on No. 16. And when both players parred No. 17, Navarrosa won the match 2&1, securing the Trojans’ victory. Englemann still held a 1-up lead on the 18th hole when the match, and the Cardinal season, concluded.
To cap off the season, Zhang received first-team All-American honors. Englemann was named to the All-American second team and Ganne was awarded an All-American honorable mention.
Zhang turns pro
On Friday, Zhang announced that she is starting her professional career and will be playing in her first LPGA tournament next week. Stanford Athletics stated in a press release that Zhang plans to remain enrolled and continue pursuing her communication degree while training at Stanford’s varsity golf facility.
Zhang joins the professional ranks as the most decorated player in amateur women’s golf history and the only multiple, and consecutive, winner of the NCAA Division I individual National Championship. She held the No. 1 Women’s World Amateur Golf ranking for a record 141 consecutive weeks, dating back to September 2020.
“The endless love, support and inspiration from so many people brought me to this point of my golf career,” Zhang wrote in a post on Instagram. “From my teammates to my coaches and trainers, to my friends and family — you have all been integral in my journey, shaping me as a person and player while making sacrifices for my success. You have made it possible for me to pursue my dreams.”
Director of Women’s Golf Anne Walker expressed high praise for Zhang. “It’s cliche to say, but I never dreamed of having the opportunity to coach the greatest female amateur of all-time,” Walker said in Friday’s press release. “Rose Zhang has led our team with class both on and off the golf course every day for two years. She’s broken every record, won every championship and taken our team to the top of college golf. I’m quite certain I’ll never coach anyone quite like Rose again – she’s a generational player. Everyone at Stanford is better for having been around Rose and we are so glad she will be a Cardinal for Life.”