Women’s Golf: Northwestern concludes season with 15th-place finish at NCAA Championships

Kevin Casey, Assistant Sports Editor

It was a second consecutive banner season for Northwestern, and it closed with a familiar finish.

The Wildcats concluded the NCAA Championships on Friday tied for 15th, their exact position at the end of play at last year’s event.

For a program that had not made it to nationals since 2000, back-to-back top-15 showings at the pinnacle tournament of team golf is a landmark performance.

One might have expected the Cats to improve on last year’s showing. This team was slightly better than last year’s iteration, and while they were ranked No. 15 in the country, they were the 12th-highest ranked squad in the event.

But not all 15th-place finishes are the same, as NU proved this week.

“Although we had the same finish as last year, this year we were much more competitive,” coach Emily Fletcher said. “We were hanging in there. And we were just three shots out of a top 10, and that’s nothing.”

Indeed, three shots is nothing. Midway through the final day at Tulsa Country Club, the Cats dangled in 10th position, even moving up to ninth at one point. The players had a tougher front nine left, but they had a good chance to keep their top-10 status.

That would not be the case. The fact they were in that position at all proved NU played some good golf the last two days, as the five starters did not get off to a great start.

“The last two days we were playing some of our better golf,” junior Hana Lee said. “But the first couple of days, it was hard to tell because of the wind and the conditions. We fought hard. We just couldn’t get that round or two that could’ve helped get us into that top-10 spot. “

The Cats did not put on their best display in those difficult conditions during Tuesday’s opening round, as they stood tied for 16th after 18 holes. Matters changed little the next day when NU moved up to 15th, but the third round brought some glory when the squad moved up to a tie for 10th.

Once again, Suchaya Tangkamolprasert led the team’s postseason charge. The sophomore has produced the lowest score among the starters in six tournaments in her two years, a nice haul but nothing that jumps out.

That is, until you look at her postseason record and notice that she finished first among her teammates in both regionals and nationals in which she has competed.

Her tie for 16th in Tulsa made it four-for-four in team-best scores in the postseason. The key? While a long year may wear on others, time only increases Tangkamolprasert’s resolve.

“I just get stronger, mentally and physically, as the year goes by,” she said. “We work so hard all year long, and I just felt very confident by the end of the year. I felt I could go out there, have fun and accomplish what I wanted to.”

There were some other notable rounds from the Cats, like sophomore Elizabeth Szokol’s three-under 67 in the second round and Lee’s 71-71 over the final 36. But nobody was able to sustain their performance over 72 holes like Tangkamolprasert, as Szokol placed tied for 77th along with Lee.

Freshman Kacie Komoto tied for 74th. Sophomore Kaitlin Park rebounded nicely from a ghastly opening 86, but that still only meant a tie for 116th.

Fletcher was pleased with the showing from her squad, even if the team didn’t max out on its potential.

Whatever the case, this program’s status as a national contender is going nowhere. All five starters, four of them All-Big Ten honorees, return, and two blue-chip recruits in Hannah Kim and Sarah Cho will enter the fray.

A top-10 or a top-five finish at NCAA Championships may have slipped away from the Cats this time, but those results might not elude the squad much longer.

“This team’s very competitive, and they’re a talented group,” Fletcher said. “And next year we’re going to have an even better opportunity to top what we have done. Making it to the afternoon wave of tee times is something that we looked for as progress as well as hanging in there for nine to 12 holes of the final round. We’re really close.”

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