GLENCOE, Ill. – The No. 19 Michigan State claimed its ninth Big Ten title in program history Sunday afternoon as the Spartans won the 2011 Big Ten Championship by five strokes over fourth-ranked and defending champion Purdue at Lake Shore Country Club.
MSU finished with a four-round total of 28-over par at 1180 (306-290-295-289), while the Boilermakers, also the defending national champions, closed at 33-over 1185 (303-296-294-292). Northwestern finished third at 1187 (308-293-300-286).
It marks MSU’s first Big Ten title since 2007 and the third of head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll’s career, as she won her first conference championship in 2001. MSU’s team score of 1180 was the best ever 72-hole score in program history at the Big Ten Championships.
“It’s an awesome feeling and I’m so happy for our team,” said Slobodnik-Stoll. “They have sacrificed so much and have worked so hard in the fall and spring. We saw the potential, we knew it was there, but for them to actually pull together as a team when it mattered most was impressive.”
Entering the final round, MSU held a two-stroke advantage over Purdue, and it kept that margin heading into the back nine on Sunday. At one point, the Spartans fell down by as many as five strokes, but they stormed back in the final four holes, recording four birdies and 12 pars among the four scores that counted out of MSU’s six players. During that same four-hole stretch, Purdue shot 4-over par.
Junior Lindsey Solberg led the charge for MSU, compiling three straight birdies on holes 15-17 and a par on No. 18 to close out with a 2-under 70. Solberg finished the tournament in fifth place at 6-over 294 (78-75-71-70) and was named to the Big Ten All-Championship Team. She had a team-best six birdies on the day.
“It’s a range of emotions to be in that position where you’re fighting for a Big Ten Championship – it only happens one time per year,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “It’s one step to be in that position, but it’s a whole other level to win it. We had played so well all weekend, but when we fell down by five, it was difficult to watch for a little bit. There were leader boards everywhere, so everyone knew the situation.
“(Assistant Coach) Lorne and I were texting each other updates the whole back nine. I knew the freshmen (Allyssa Ferrell and Christine Meier) were playing well, and then I got word that Christine birdied the 18th hole and Purdue’s Paula Reto tripled 17, putting us back up. And to witness Lindsey make three birdies in a row was definitely an exhilarating feeling. I knew that was in her – it’s in all of our players.
“Today’s effort truly exemplified the word ‘team.’ It really was the epitome of what a team is all about. The biggest thing was knowing they were working together with a championship on the line.”
Sophomore Caroline Powers was also named to the All-Championship Team and led MSU with a fourth-place finish. Although her round of 77 did not count toward the team score on Sunday and knocked her out of medalist contention, Powers did finish with a team-best score at 5-over 293 (72-70-74-77). She entered the day tied for first with Purdue’s Numa Gulyanamitta, who claimed medalist honors with a score of 1-under 287.
Senior Aimee Neff tied for 19th place overall and was solid on the back nine, recording eight pars and just one bogey to finish at 3-over 75 for the round. Her final tally over 72 holes was 15-over par (79-71-78-75–303).
True freshmen Allyssa Ferrell and Christine Meier came up big the Spartans on Sunday in their first career appearance at the Big Ten Championships, as both carded rounds of even-par 72. Ferrell registered third birdies on the front nine, while Meier had two birdies on the day, including one on the par-5 18th. Ferrell finished tied for 29th at 309 (77-86-74-72) and Meier tied for 32nd at 310 (83-79-76-72).
Senior Natalie Brehm also tied for 32nd with a 72-hole score of 310 (80-74-77-79).
Sunday’s victory added to the winning tradition of the Spartan women’s golf program. MSU won five consecutive Big Ten titles from 1974-78, and also won conference crowns in 1982, 2001 and 2007. In the Big Ten record books, MSU is credited with four Big Ten Championships, as the conference did not officially sanction women’s sports until 1982. In addition, Michigan State has now placed in the top-three at the Big Ten Championships for eight consecutive years.
“They’re all special,” Slobodnik-Stoll said of winning her third Big Ten title. “I’ll never forget the first one in Minnesota, and winning at home was another great experience (in 2007). I always go back to what Coach Izzo says, about not winning just one, but establishing a program. By winning three Big Ten titles in 10 years, I think it proves the longevity and consistency of this program. I feel like we’ve established one of the top programs in the Big Ten and the nation.”
The tournament win was the 28th overall for Slobodnik-Stoll during her 14-year career at MSU. The Spartans also won the Lady Buckeye Invitational last weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
The women’s golf team is the fourth Spartan program to win a Big Ten title in 2010-11 (football, women’s cross country, women’s basketball).
Michigan State will find out its postseason destination on Monday as the NCAA announces its regional selections.
“The team is extremely confident right now after winning the Lady Buckeye last weekend and Big Tens this weekend,” Slobodnik-Stoll said. “We’re looking forward to carrying that momentum into the NCAA Regionals.”