Women’s Golf: Wildcats take first place in National Championship stroke play


Daily file photo by Keshia Johnson

Janet Mao watches her drive. The sophomore led the Wildcats to a first place finish in the stroke play portion of the national championships.

Joseph Wilkinson, Reporter

Women’s Golf

One year after coming a single stroke short of the match play tournament, Northwestern ensured there would be no doubt this year, dominating from wire-to-wire and taking first place in the stroke play portion of the event.

The Wildcats played the best round on the course Friday and Sunday and entered the final day with an eight-stroke lead, holding off Stanford to win by that same margin.

“It’s awesome,” senior Kacie Komoto said. “Last year we missed out by one, and this year we just weren’t going to be denied a spot in the top 8, so I’m thrilled.”

In last year’s ninth-place finish, only then-freshman Stephanie Lau finished in the top 35 in the individual standings, in a tie for 11th. This year, all five NU golfers closed in the top 30, with sophomore Janet Mao leading the way in 13th.

Mao put up the second-best score in the entire tournament on par-4s, shooting 3-over-par on those holes over the three rounds. That was good for second among all golfers, behind only individual champion Monica Vaughn of Arizona State.

“It was mostly just staying patient in the conditions,” Mao said. “I tried not to get ahead of myself. Everybody was dealing with the same stuff, so just being patient was key.”

The course presented a grueling test on the weekend, with no golfers in the 132-person field finishing under par. A combination of the national championship level course along with gusting winds and on-and-off rain sent scores through the roof on the weekend.

Komoto and junior Hannah Kim dealt with the conditions admirably just as Mao did, however, finishing in 14th and 17th in the individual competition. Komoto led the entire tournament with 41 pars in the three rounds, while Kim shot 5-under on par-5s on the course to snag her spot in the top 20.

Lau and junior Sarah Cho each put up solid performances in their own right, finishing tied for 24th at 13-over.

“We had all five of our players contribute in significant ways,” coach Emily Fletcher said. “That was the difference. It separated us from the rest of the field for sure.”

Three years ago, this first-place finish would’ve meant the Cats were celebrating and holding the national championship trophy over their heads, but the NCAA changed the format in recent years. NU is now in an eight-team match play bracket, with play beginning Tuesday morning.

The Cats have never been part of the match play portion of the tournament before, and last year’s ninth-place finish was the best in program history before this year’s dominant performance.

“You work so hard for something and set it as something you want to accomplish, and then when you finally get it it’s just all about winning that next match,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think it’s fully set in yet what we’ve been able to accomplish these last four days and three rounds, but it’s something really special.”

NU will open match play against Kent State. The Cats and Golden Flashes had not shared a course this year prior to nationals this week, where NU was 22 strokes better across the three days of stroke play.

If the Cats take down Kent State, they’ll face the winner of the match between USC and Ohio State. NU has already defeated USC once in match play this season, but the Cats aren’t looking that far ahead.

“We’ve been paired with Kent State the last three days, so I know a little bit more than I knew previously,” Fletcher said on Golf Channel. “We look forward to going to toe-to-toe with them.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @joe_f_wilkinson