Arizona won the national championship yesterday. But, that isn’t what we take away from the 2018 NCAA Championships
After the pain has been blunted, and Mic Potter can rally his team, missed opportunities on the greens will be one of the takeaways from this year’s playoffs.
Alabama, the number one team in the nation, breezed through the first three rounds of stroke play — leading by 8 strokes going into the last day of play, and having two women in the Top 5 individualists. The Tide saw that lead evaporate in the final round, as UCLA made up all of that ground in just 12 holes. Alabama battled back to earn a tie, but was saddled with the two-seed entering match play, and some serious questions about its putting consistency.
Alabama entered Wednesday’s finale against underdog Arizona, after beating USC and scraping by Kent State. There were few surprises, initially. The Tide’s top two golfers, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight, dispatched their opponents — Gillman doing so with relative ease, to set up a final round between Alabama’s Lakareber Abe and Arizona’s No. 1 player, Haley Moore.
The final round wasn’t a masterpiece by either player. But, Moore missed several opportunities to close it out early for the Wildcats. Abe stormed back, however, and facing elimination came up with a huge birdie on the 18th to force a sudden-death playoff.
When sudden-death play resumed again on the 18th, both players had solid shots to put them on the green and in position to birdie. Abe’s putter, so clutch just 10 minutes earlier, would fail her, and she settled for a two-putt for par. Moore’s had not. She atoned for her original two-putt on 18 and then tallied her own birdie on 18, clinching the title for ‘Zona.
It was a brutal way for the Tide to exit and certainly painful for Abe, who was visibly despondent: To claw and scrape for 18 against a superior opponent, to make the most of your opponents errors, to force extra holes, and then miss an 8-footer that would have put all the pressure on Moore? “Pain” can barely describe Abe’s body language.
“When you get into the final eight, you just never know. We were pretty dominant yesterday, but Arizona made that eagle in stroke play to force a playoff on Monday, then they won that playoff and they just rode that momentum all the way to the championship. They’re a very good team and they just kept getting better throughout the tournament.”
You never know indeed.
Looking ahead, the 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide will return largely intact. Abe, a Senior, moves on. however; that painful 19th hole is her last in a Crimson and White uniform. But, both Gillman (So.) and Knight (Jr.), the Tide’s top pair, return for another run — and Gillman may be the best women’s collegiate golfer in the nation. So too returns promising freshman Angelica Moresco and the steady Sophomore Lauren Stephenson: 80% of an intact national champion runner-up, all upperclassmen to-be, bodes well for Alabama’s chance to finish the business that remains incomplete after Stillwater.
Congratulations to the women; Alabama had an outstanding year. And, though this one does hurt, it should not minimize what an excellent team this is, despite the what-ifs that will linger throughout the offseason.
You just never know.