SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Georgia women’s golf team’s stellar run at the NCAA Championships came to an end on Tuesday. The Bulldogs dropped a 3-2 decision to No. 1 Stanford in the quarterfinal round of the match play bracket at Grayhawk Golf Club.
“We fought,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “I mean it’s the No. 1 team in the country. We had a chance all the way down to the end. We’re disappointed. We feel like we had a chance to win and should be playing again (in the semifinals) this afternoon. At the same time, to be here and get into the match play for the first time is just another stepping stone for the program. We’ve just got to build on it and take a bunch of positives from it from the week.”
Juniors Caterina Don, who is from Pinerolo, Italy, and Candice Mahé, who is from Gourin, France, earned points for Georgia. Bulldog golfers led their Cardinal counterparts in two of the other matches, and the fifth matchup was tied for seven of 17 holes.
“I think it shows why they are such big cogs for their national teams, what they’ve learned at the European Team Championships and how their countries have prepared them,” Brewer said. “Maybe we lean on them a little bit next year to help the other two or three who are here with them so we win all five matches – get a little greedy. Who knows, you just hope we get another chance because you never know what the future holds.”
Don rallied to earn a 3-and-1 decision over Sadie Englemann to put Georgia up 1-0.
Stanford then won three straight matches within a 10-minute span, with Rachel Heck topping Jenny Bae, 2-up; Brooke Seay beating Jo Hua Hung, 3-and-2; and Aline Krauther clinching the victory with a 2-up effort over LoraLie Cowart.
Almost simultaneously, Mahé was closing out a 1-up victory over Rose Zhang, the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur.
Don trailed for much of the front nine before birdies at No. 7 and No. 9 brought the match back to all-square.
“I started a little down, but then I made a couple of birdies that really helped me and kept me going,” Don said. “I made an eagle on 10, and that was really nice. It was fun overall to play match play again.”
Don holed out from 162 yards at No. 10 to earn her first lead of the day.
“It is definitely one of the hardest holes on the course,” Don said. “Once you’re in the fairway, you still need to be very careful with your second shot. I had a really good number and just trusted my swing and hit it.”
Englemann rallied to tie the match at No. 11, but Don then won No. 12 and No. 16 before closing out the match at No. 17.
Mahé never trailed in her back-and-forth match against Zhang, who captured the NCAA individual title on Monday and was named National Player of the Year shortly after her match on Tuesday morning.
Mahé won back-to-back holes with a birdie at No. 2 and a par at No. 3 before Zhang tied it up through No. 5. Mahé took No. 6 with a par, but Zhang captured No. 7 with a birdie. Mahé went back up No. 8 and led 1-up at the turn.
Zhang tied the match for a third time with a birdie at No. 10. Mahé regained the lead at No. 14 with a birdie only to have Zhang bring it back to all-square at No. 16. Mahé inched ahead with a birdie at No. 17 and the golfers both accepted par on No. 18 after Stanford clinched the victory.
Georgia arrived in Scottsdale ranked No. 27 in the nation and seeded 20th in the 24-team field before cruising through the first three rounds of stroke play to stand 10th on the leaderboard when the field was cut to 15 teams after 54 holes. The Bulldogs then posted the program’s second-best score in NCAA Championships history on Monday to climb to eighth and advance to match play.
“I’m very proud of everyone on the team,” Don said. “I feel like not many people believed that we could make it this far. A lot of people here on this team believed we could go even farther. That’s why we are disappointed right now. But it’s also a good learning opportunity and hopefully we’ll be back next year stronger and ready when the opportunity presents itself again and we can keep going.”
Reaching the quarterfinals officially earned Georgia a tie for fifth in the team standings. That’s the Bulldogs’ best NCAA finish since placing fourth in 2002. Overall, Georgia has now posted 21 top-10 and 28th top-20 finishes at the national championships since 1979.
“It’s going to feel lot better a week from now, a year from now, when you can take a step back,” Brewer said. “When you get here, you do think you’re going to win the championship, but it’s been a really special past 30 days. We did it last year too. We’ve showed up at the right time, which is what you really want. I’m proud of the group and how they rallied after our finish at SECs. Now, you feel like we have some momentum heading into the summer and we’ll get ready for the fall.”
The Bulldogs advanced through Regionals to the NCAA Championships for the second straight year, their first consecutive trips to the finals since a string of four consecutive from 2006-09. That looked improbable after Georgia finished 10th at the SEC Championships last month, not even qualifying for the match play bracket in Birmingham before tying for fifth in Scottsdale.
“Deep down I knew we we’d been close, and I was just waiting for us to take off and play well” Brewer said. “We did it at the right time. Everyone’s season but one has to end this way, but hat’s off to Stanford. There’s a reason they are the No. 1 team in the country.”
All six Bulldogs in Scottsdale gave Georgia vital rounds during the week.
Bae and Mahé led the way by tying for sixth individually. In the process, they became the first Georgia teammates to earn top-10 NCAA finishes since 2002. Hung contributed an even-par 72 on Monday, her team-leading 16th par-or-better loop of the season. Don led the Bulldogs in the first round and posted counting scores each day of stroke play before winning her match on Tuesday. Cowart and substitute Céleste Dao each played two stroke play rounds and delivered counting scores.
“We knew we have depth and we’ve shown it,” Brewer said. “It’s nice to have all of them play well and put critical rounds on the board for us. When you get to the national championships and finish top-5, it’s a pretty darn good year.”