The final match of the 2019 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship at Blessings Golf Club in Fayetteville, Ark., was a combination heart-stopping excitement and stomach-churning nerviness. ACC rivals Duke and Wake Forest squared off for the national title, and for the first time in NCAA history three individual matches went extra holes. Tied 2-2 overall, the Blue Devils prevailed when Miranda Wang beat Letizia Bagnoli on the 19th hole, giving Hall of Fame coach Dan Brooks and the school a seventh national team title, but their first in the match-play era.
Much will be written about the down-to-the-wire action in the final—it’s the third time in five years that the championship was decided on a last match that had gone extra holes—but there was a moment along the way to the final that hopefully won’t be forgotten. Earlier in the day, Duke faced defending NCAA champion Arizona in the semifinals. And as with the clash against Wake Forest, this one all came down to a single match between Blue Devil freshman Gina Kim and Wildcat senior Bianca Pagdanganan.
It was a see-saw affair for most of the round, Pagdanganan ahead early, then Kim taking a 1-up lead with a birdie on the 16th hole. But on the 18th, Kim, a first-year player at Duke who is from, of all places, Chapel Hill, N.C., found herself in a fairway bunker off the tee, seemingly opening the door for Pagdanganan to square the match after she found the fairway off the tee. It was then that Kim hit arguably the shot of the tournament:
The approach shot set up a short birdie putt that would give Kim, and Duke, the victory and propel them into the finals.
Making it that much more crucial was the fact that Pagdanganan stuck her approach to a similar gimmie range with the next shot. But trading birdies wouldn’t help Arizona stay alive in their attempt to become the first school to win back-to-back titles in match play.
When Kim rolled it her putt, it lifted Duke to the championship round for the first time since match play was implemented in 2015. Previously, Brooks’ squads had qualified for match play three times in four years, but the all-time winningest coach in NCAA D-I women’s golf history (this was his 136th team title in 35 seasons) never could get passed the semifinal round.
Not only did they get past it in Arkansas, but they then won the whole enchilada, making Brooks the first coach to win an NCAA title in both stroke and match play and also allowing him to pass Arizona State’s Linda Volstedt as the coach with the most NCAA titles on his or her resumé.