May 21, 2010
By Neil Amato, Special to NCAA.com
WILMINGTON, N.C. – Little white lies are specifically forbidden in golf. But the rules are different when an NCAA team title is at stake, and you’re trying to hold your team together.
Purdue’s women’s golf team needed to keep its collective head, so coach Devon Brouse needed to do whatever was necessary. After the 15th hole in Friday’s final round of the NCAA Division I women’s golf championships, with Southern California closing fast, the Boilermakers’ Numa Gulyanamitta asked Brouse, “Are we still OK?”
“What that means,” Brouse said, “is, ‘Do we still have a comfortable lead?’ I knew at the time it was one or two shots. So I said, ‘Yeah, Numa, we’re fine.’”
Purdue was fine at the finish, in part because it stayed focused, in part because Southern Cal struggled at the end. The Boilermakers won their first national championship in women’s golf, topping the Trojans in a 72-hole championship that came down to one final putt that made both teams anxious.
Purdue’s Thea Hoffmeister would like to think the title came down to her putt. She had played four holes before No. 18 in 5-over-par, and she knew the lead was slipping away.
“I really don’t know how we held it together,” she said. “I lost the shot-by-shot thinking. I started thinking about the entire result. When I lost that, I screwed up for four holes, and then on the last hole, I was like, ‘OK, just do what you gotta do.’ I made birdie on the last hole, and we won by one shot.”
Moments like that will last a lifetime for the Boilermakers, who figured they were headed to a playoff when No. 1 player Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, a challenger when the day began for the individual title, missed a 15-foot par putt on 18, settling for bogey.
Next up was a par attempt by Southern Cal’s Jennifer Song. Make it, and the tournament goes overtime.
She didn’t make it.
Final score: Purdue 1,153 (1-over-par), USC 1,154.
“We made some mistakes coming in, but fortunately we made a couple birdies on the last hole, and I think that made the difference,” Brouse said.
Southern Cal coach Andrea Gaston said the miss by Song was even tougher than her star player’s 3-putt to fall short in the NCAA individual championship a year ago.
“To watch Maude hit the shot, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, we really do have a chance at least to tie it,’” Gaston said. “You don’t want anybody else in that position.”
Purdue survived, or so it thought. No one was certain that the scores were official, given that only the top four of five count in the team total. It became closer to official when Gaston broke from a huddle of her teary-eyed players and hugged some of the Purdue coaches, offering the words, “I’m pretty sure. I’m pretty sure.”
When the math had been double-checked, the Boilermakers had the first women’s golf title by a Big Ten school and Purdue’s fourth team national championship, joining the 1932 men’s basketball, 1961 men’s golf and 1999 women’s basketball teams.
Hoffmeister is the superstitious sort, which is why she gladly accepted a shell, found on the beach earlier Friday by Sara White of the Purdue sports information office. White gave a shell to each player and coach as a charm. Hoffmeister pulled it out of her pocket and looked at it after the round, thinking about what it all meant.
“I forgot it in the in van, when I went to go practice before the round,” Hoffmeister said. “I was like, ‘Coach? Coach? Where’s my shell? Go and get it.’ (White) said it was lucky, so I decided I had to have it. I think I would have played a lot worse if I hadn’t had it.”
Brouse isn’t sure how his team would have played if he had given them the scoop on the scores. Purdue began the day with a seven-shot lead, and Southern Cal kept chipping away. So when the question about scores came up, he deflected it nicely.
“You have to look ‘em right in the eye,” he said. “You have to say, ‘Just hit this shot. Just play.’ “