NCAA Women's Championship: 72 hours later
__OWINGS MILLS, Md.--__As I was writing the game story from the NCAA Women's Championship at Caves Valley GC that will appear in this week's issue of Golf World, I couldn't help but feel like I was repeating one phrase over and over in describing some of the golfers I was talking about. It would begin with a player's name and be followed by
"who capped an outstanding college career"
Indeed, as much as I'll remember Arizona State's deserving return to NCAA glory with the Sun Devils first national championship in 11 years, the thing that stands out for me most about the 2008-09 season that just wrapped up was the number of tremendous players in the senior class that have now wrapped up their time in school.
Of course there's the newly crowned NCAA medalist, __Maria Hernandez __of Purdue, who went out in style by winning her 13th college tournament and claiming the Ping/NGCA national player-of-the-year award. And there's Duke's Amanda Blumenherst, who couldn't win her fourth straight POY but who posted an impressive T-4 finish at nationals, her 37 top-10 finish in 44 college starts. (I'll let you stop for a moment to appreciate that stat.)
Still, there are so many others really talented players that are now moving on: Duke's Jennie Lee, UCLA's Tiffany Joh, Arizona State's Azahara Munoz, Oklahoma State's Pernilla Lindberg, Louisville's Cindy LaCrosse, Long Beach State's Kay Hoey, San Jose State's Erica Moston, Wake Forest's Nannette Hill, Mississippi's Dori Carter, Alabama's Kathleen Ekey and Florida State's Caroline Westrup.
Without any numbers to back it up, and at the risk of succumbing to hyperbole, I think you can make an argument that the Class of 2009 might have been the deepest group of talent to come around.
A few other observations as I move on from the women's championship to the men's at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, this coming week.
__1.) __Think how good ASU would have been if Anna Nordqvist hadn't left school in December.
2.) This might sound weird, but if I'm "most happy" for anyone associated with the Sun Devils for winning the NCAA title, I think it might be for senior Jennifer Osborn. I saw her after the victory and was asking her the obligatory "how does it feel" kind of questions. Osborn's voice started to break as she responded.
"It's really emotional because I'm a senior and I'm not going to … I'm done with golf basically," she said. "It's a dream come true. We've been working so hard. And we've been wanting it every year and finally it's our time. Everything has to be just right. It's unbelievable."
Too often I get so focused on the players who are going to move on to the LPGA that I forget to appreciate how often college is the last stop in the competitive careers most players. I first covered Osborn at the AJGA Rolex Tournament of Champions in the summer of 2005, right before she arrived in Tempe. I know how big a deal golf was to Osborn. And I'm thrilled that one of her last memories from college golf will be such a great one.
3.) Here's hoping USC freshman Jennifer Song won't beat herself up too much after making a double bogey on the final hole to wind up finishing second individually. As she gracefully spoke to the press after the disappointing finish, you could tell the moment on the 72nd hole had gotten to her.
It's a cliche to say that she can chalking it up as a learning experience, but I hope she really does take away from it a better understanding of how to close out a tournament. She's too talented a player not to be able to get into this situation again at some point in her career.
4.) Great call by the folks at the NGCA on all their award winners. Hernandez is a no brainer for POY after winning medalist honors; same with Song given her runner-up showing. The way Melissa Luellen handled all the turnover with her Sun Devil roster this season, only to pull out the national championship victory, makes her a logical choice for top coach, and her associate head coach, Missy Farr-Kaye, is as deserving a Kim Moore Spirit Award winner as you can find given her courage in fighting breast cancer for a second time.
5.) I won't come out with my early, early top 10 ranking for another week or two, but you can believe that Denver is going to be ranked near the top. With a fifth-place finish at Caves Valley, the Pioneers improved on their previous best showing at nationals and proved that their East Regional title was no fluke. Coach Sammie Chergo is going to miss outgoing seniors Dawn Stockley and Katie Kempter, but with former U.S. Women's Amateur champion Kimberly Kim and AJGA All-American Sue Kim among an impressive four-person freshmen class to help back up All-American Stephanie Sherlock next fall, Denver is proving that it's going to remain a national contender for years to come.
6.) A sixth-place performance from Duke was probably about where the Blue Devils deserved to finish in this roller-coaster season. (By the way, we should all hope that finish sixth at nationals is a "down year.") The problem though is trying to replace Blumenherst and Lee in the lineup. Consider that Lee hit 47 of 56 fairways during the NCAA Championship and 82 of her last 95 as a Blue Devil. Lee's performances were too often overshadowed by Blumenherst's but she was every bit the contributor.
7.) Congrats to North Carolina coach Sally Austin, who got to see her Tar Heels record their best finish in NCAA history when they came in seventh last Friday; four times they've finished eighth. I know how badly the players wanted to send Austin out on a high note. College golf loses a very fine coach and an even better person.
8.) Caves Valley is a fantastic venue for an NCAA Championship if you're a player; you can't ask for a better course and practice facility to hold the year's biggest event. However, it's a cumbersome venue for an NCAA Championship if you're a spectator. It's a seven-mile walk for those going all 18 holes and the elevation changes on the back nine make you feel like you're climbing K2 at certain moments.
The real problem, though, is there's not enough water or amenities for fans watching the action. By my count, there was only one tent selling food and beverages. People complain that the attendance for the women's championship is so low. Well, it becomes a self-fulfilling thing if those who do come can't get more than crackers and a Gatorade at the turn.
9.) I didn't attend the Division III Women's Championship but 100-year-old Allegra Bollero (second from the left) did. She's the grandmother of Illinois Wesleyan golfer Alessandra Bollero, and she came from her home in Fort Myers, Fla., to PGA GC in Port St. Lucie despite 85 degree heat and high humidity. Got to love that kind of dedication ... and thanks for sending the photo.