ALBUQUERQUE--Nobody said winning a national championship was easy. Earning the 2008 title, though, got decidedly harder Wednesday when persistent 30-mph winds that caused a nearly two-hour delay earlier in the afternoon at the NCAA Women's Championship forced tournament officials to suspend play for the remainder of the day at 4:55 p.m. local time.
The horn was blown for the second time just after the last groups of the morning wave finished their second rounds. The entire afternoon wave of 66 golfers was on the course, some having played as few as one hole.
Southern California and UCLA share the team lead at eight-over 584, each school having finished its second round before the first delay came at 1:10 p.m. USC sophomore Belen Mozo is the individual leader, shooting a 71 in the windy conditions to finish the first 36 holes of the championship at four-under 140. (Click here for full team scores, and here for full individual scores.)
Play is scheduled to resume tomorrow morning at 7 a.m., but so too are more strong winds. Additionally, Thursday forecasts call for possible thunderstorms, potentially setting up another difficult decision-making day for tournament officials.
Indeed, suspending play not once but twice because of the wind caught many coaches by surprise. In talking to nearly a dozen or so with at least 10 years of coaching experience, I found none who could remember ever having a round suspended at a women's college tournament because of wind.
"I feel like we just played though some of the toughest conditions out there," Southern California coach Andrea Gaston said. "I'm thinking these [afternoon] teams have to go out and play."
Several coaches whose teams played all 18 holes Wednesday felt similarly to Gaston, thinking that while conditions were difficult, fairness should dictate that the afternoon pairings play in similarly adverse conditions. However, Nancy Cross, chairwoman of the NCAA Division I women's golf committee, said USGA rules officials told her that conditions had become unplayable--on four different golf balls wouldn't stay still as players were attempting to putt--giving the tournament committee little choice but to stop play.
Cross had hoped that when they started up again after the first suspension that they might be able to continue through day's end, having seen reports that suggested the winds might ease up slightly. Yet the plan backfired as just the opposite seemed to occur. "The wind definitely blew harder after we went back out," said Duke coach Dan Brooks.
"I think the popular opinion is we wish we wouldn't have stopped," said Arizona State coach Melissa Luellen. "It's unfortunate."
The Sun Devils were nine over par for the tournament when play restarted at 3:15 p.m., and the team finished 15 over. ASU junior Azahara Munoz was leading the tournament at six under through 13 holes, but proceeded to double bogey her first hole back on the course; she finished with a 71 on the day and three-under 141 total.
When Munoz ball moved more than a foot as she attempted to line up a putt on the ninth green, her last hole, officials decided enough was enough.
If the tournament committee was feeling some heat Wednesday from coaches disappointed with what took place, Thursday could be even uglier. To get the tournament finished on time Friday, Cross said they will play the third round in a shotgun format Thursday beginning at 12:30 p.m. (teams will be repaired). If the predicted storms come through, the (unpopular) possibility of spilling play over into Saturday comes more and more into play.
Such a scenario creates its own interesting set of issues. Not the least of which being that five of the eight players on the U.S. Curtis Cup team--Duke's Amanda Blumenherst and Jennie Lee; Arkansas'Stacy Lewis, UCLA's__Tiffany Joh__ and Arizona's Alison Walshe--are schedule to fly over to Scotland on Saturday morning.