SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Wake Forest stumbled in its first trip to Grayhawk Golf Club, finishing 12th in the 2021 NCAA women's championship. The Demon Deacons slipped even further last season, ending up 16th.
The lessons learned from those disappointments fueled a veteran-led team to a hard-earned national championship.
Lauren Walsh closed out her match against Brianna Navarrosa with a conceded par on the 16th hole and Wake Forest won its first women's golf championship by beating Southern California 3-1 on Wednesday.
“They’ve worked hard, they have control of their golf ball,” Wake Forest coach Kim Lewellen said. “The past was the past and now this is the future.”
Wake Forest lost to Duke in the 2019 final and had a school-record five tournament wins this season with a team led by Walsh, fellow senior Rachel Kuehn and sixth-year senior Emilia Migliaccio.
The trip helped the Demon Deacons put USC on the ropes early at Grayhawk with big early leads in two matches.
Kuehn, the two-time ACC player of the year, beat Amari Avery 6 and 4. Migliaccio then closed out Cindy Kou 4 and 2, leaving the stage to Walsh.
The senior from Ireland had a 5-up lead through 12 holes and hit her tee shot to about 20 feet on No. 16 after Navarrosa rallied to 3 down. Navarrosa chipped it close for par and Walsh hit her putt close just past the hole, sending the Demon Deacons rushing onto the green after Navarrosa conceded.
“We stepped on campus freshman year the first week and they just finished runners up the year before,” Walsh said. “So, from that first week, the goal was to win a national championship and to close out my college career doing this it’s just the stuff of dreams.”
Mimi Rhodes rallied from an early 2-down deficit by winning five of six holes and had a birdie putt on the 17th green with a 2-up lead over Christine Wang when Walsh clinched it.
USC had an emotional Tuesday, beating No. 4 South Carolina in the morning, then taking down reigning national champion Stanford and two-time national champion Rose Zhang in the afternoon semifinals.
The Trojans got down early against Wake Forest and couldn't make up the ground, finishing second at the NCAA Championships for the sixth time.
USC freshman Catherine Park capped of a stellar week beating Carolina Lopez-Chacarra 3 and 1 after finishing as co-runner-up in the individual championship.
“I really think we emptied the tank against Stanford yesterday,” USC coach Justin Silverstein said. “Just the weight Rose carries in the Stanford program and beating them took a lot out of us.”
Navarrosa played in the anchor match Tuesday against Stanford and hit one clutch shot after another to beat Zhang, the top-ranked amateur in the world.
Navarrosa was in trouble from the start against Walsh, losing the opening hole with a bogey. Walsh won three straight holes starting on No. 3 and went 5 up with a birdie on the par-5 seventh.
Navarrosa won consecutive holes to cut the lead to 3 down through 13 holes, but Walsh saved par on 15 with a nifty chip shot and closed it out with a solid tee shot on No. 16.
“I didn't quite think it would come down to me,” Walsh said.
Kuehn won three straight holes for a 3-up lead at the turn, won the 11th with a birdie and went to 5 up with a par on No. 13 Kuehn closed out Avery with a birdie on the par-4 14th for Wake Forest's first point.
Migliaccio led 2 up after a birdie at No. 11, only to give it back with a double bogey on No. 12. The sixth-year senior pushed it back to 2 up with a birdie on the par-4 14th, pumping her fist as the putt dropped.
Migliaccio followed with another birdie after nearly holing out on 15 and won her match with a par the next hole.
“I thought if we could survive that first six (holes), we’d have a good chance and it proved that we did,” Silverstein said. “We just got behind too early.”
And a veteran Wake Forest team took advantage.