ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Georgia women’s golf team opened the final round of the NCAA Albuquerque quickly on Wednesday and never looked back en route to clinching the Bulldogs’ second-consecutive – and 24th overall – appearance in the NCAA Championships.
“I’ve said for six weeks that we were close,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “Unfortunately, the results never showed that. Deep down, I knew we were. I was just hoping we wouldn’t run out of tournaments before we could prove it.”
Georgia wrapped up the 54-hole event at 2-over 866 and in third place at the University of New Mexico’s Championship Course. The Bulldogs will be making their first back-to-back appearance in the NCAA Championships since a string of four-consecutive bids from 2006-09.
“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder,” Brewer continued. “With the spring we’ve had, a lot of people have discarded our program and not give us much of a chance. We wanted to come here and make a statement. Hat’s off to the ladies out here who stepped up and showed why they came to Georgia. They got us back in the national championships in consecutive years and put us back on the map.”
Individually, Jenny Bae and Candice Mahé finished second and third, respectively. Bae, who won medalist honors the Columbus Regional last spring, shot 5-under 213, whileMahé was among a trio tying for third at 3-under 213.
The Bulldogs posted a 2-over 290 on Wednesday, counting a 2-under 70 from Mahé, and even-par 72 from Caterina Don and a pair of 74s from Bae and Jo Hua Hung. Georgia dropped LoraLie Cowart’s 75.
Mahé enjoyed an extremely steady front nine, mixing eight pars with a birdie at No. 3 to turn at 1-under. She got hot thereafter, with birdies at No. 10, No. 13 and No. 14 to move to 4-under before dropping two of those strokes with bogeys at No. 15 and No. 18.
The performance clinched Mahé’s second-straight top-5 finish in NCAA Regional play. She tied for fifth last spring, with those tourneys representing two of her three top-5 efforts in 19 career events with the Bulldogs.
Overall, Hung tied for 22nd place at 221, Don tied for 25th at 222 and Cowart tied for 48th at 228.
“I’m trying to decide what I’m most proud of today,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “Just getting off to that start, because I know they were nervous. We all were. We know it’s the most important round of the season.”
Cowart was the first Bulldog on the course and notched a birdie. Don, who finished birdie-birdie on Tuesday, opened her day with another on Wednesday and went on to play her first six holes at 3-under.
“Caterina continued the momentum she had at the end of yesterday, and LoraLie starts with birdies two days in a row in her first NCAA Regional,” Brewer said. “That kind of let everyone relax. We hit a lull there on a tough part of the course but then all of a sudden made a bunch of birdies to really create the cushion we needed. It’s always tough to finish in golf, but we gave ourselves the cushion we needed to figure it out.”
Georgia moved to 6-under at one point and pulled within three shots or Oregon, which began the day with an eight-stroke lead over the Bulldogs.
No. 2 Oregon earned the team and individual titles. Medalist Briana Chacon shot 9-under to lead the Ducks to a 4-under 860 team total. Oregon, No. 13 Texas, the Bulldogs and TCU earned the coveted spots in the NCAA Championships field. The Horned Frogs edged No. 11 Florida by a shot and No. 23 Arizona by two strokes to claim the fourth and final ticket for the NCAAs from Albuquerque.
“Today was hard,” Brewer said. “We’re mad because we do feel like we had a chance to win. But at the same time, you want to make sure you have a tee time in Arizona next Friday. That’s what we did.”
A year ago, Georgia swept the team and individual titles at the Columbus Regional before failing to reach the final round of stroke play and finishing 18th.
“Last year, we celebrated,” Brewer said. “We probably didn’t go out there as focused as we should have been. Honestly, we played poorly. That’s on us. This year, we’ve already said it’s more of a business trip. We always have fun, but we’re going out there spend an entire week and have tee times all the way past the weekend.”
The NCAAs will feature 54 holes of stroke play next Friday-Sunday. The field will then be cut to the top-15 teams and the top-9 golfers not on advancing teams. That group will compete a fourth round of stroke play on Monday (May 24), with the NCAA individual champion crowned and the top-8 teams entering a match play bracket thereafter. The quarterfinals and semifinals of match play will be May 25 and the championship will be held on May 26.
Georgia has long been one of the college golf’s premier women’s programs, headlined by four total national titles – one team and three individual. The Bulldogs won the 2001 NCAA title. Terri Moody earned medalist honors at the 1981 AIAW Championships, while Cindy Schreyer and Vicki Goetze took home individual crowns at the 1984 and 1992 NCAA Championships, respectively.
As a team, the Bulldogs sport 20 top-10 and 27 top-20 team finishes at AIAW and NCAA Championships since 1979. Individually, Georgia golfers have produced 36 top-20 efforts at the national championships.