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Denise Maloof | | May 23, 2014

Maloof: Celebration at the scene

  Duke claims a sixth Division I team championship by four strokes against the defending champion Trojans.

TULSA, Okla. -- Blue-clad water-bottle sprayers streaked across Tulsa Country Club’s 18th green late Friday afternoon, dousing their Duke teammate Celine Boutier in squeals and splashes.

Southern California’s attacked next, chasing their teammate Doris Chen to the far edge of the green before landing their liquid shots.

Eventually, senior Sophia Popov waved an empty water bottle at a flinching Chen.

“I don’t have anything,” she said, hugging her teammate as another wave of Trojans splattered Chen again.

Such was the scene following Friday’s final round of the 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Championship, with Southern California celebrating Chen’s individual title and Duke celebrating the team title.

The two teams finished one-two, Duke claiming a sixth Division I team championship by four strokes over the defending champion Trojans. Chen, a junior from Bradenton, Florida, won low-medalist honors after tying for 15th as a sophomore and 14th as a freshman.

Her 6-under-par 274 this week propelled her to the top at Tulsa.

“I was very relaxed,” she said. ”Probably until the last five holes. I was a little stressed then. But really, I was composed the whole week.

Boutier, a sophomore, finished two strokes behind Chen with a 4-under 276. Stanford sophomore Lauren Kim was third, with a 3-under 277.

Chen shot a 67 in Tuesday’s first round,  72 on Wednesday, 68 on Thursday and 67 on Friday. Boutier shot a 70 on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and followed with a 67 on Thursday and 69 on Friday.

“Celine’s golf was just tremendous out there the entire championships,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said.

Chen was the engine that propelled USC on Friday. The Trojans began the day six strokes behind Duke, and although they couldn’t catch the Blue Devils, Chen was a major reason USC sliced four strokes from Duke’s final margin of victory. Birdies on Tulsa’s Nos. 2, 4 and 5 -- all par 4s -- provided crucial, opening momentum.

The putt on No. 5, which appeared seemingly endless -- nailed.

“It was downhill over a ridge,” Chen said. “I know the ball’s going to run out hot. I just want to pop the ball softly. I thought it was going too fast and it pops it into the hole. I went, ‘ooh.’”

To Gaston, Chen putted from downtown Tulsa.

“Almost 40-45 feet,” the head coach said. “Thankfully in the center of the cup. It was moving pretty fast. “

“I had a lot of lot birdie chances from three feet to nine feet and I thought that was great,” Chen said.

She collected two more birdies -- on the par-2 No. 9 and par-4 No. 10. A double bogey on No. 11 was her only ‘ouch” of the day; she played the remaining seven holes to par.

“On 16, Doris didn’t hit her drive and had to play safe,” Gaston said, alluding to the birdie possibility that escaped on another par-4. But it was one of the few opportunities missed.

“She put a putter in her bag this week, too, and I think that putter did something for her,” Gaston said.

“Actually, I like my old one,” Chen said. “It’s just the ball sits better on this one.”

Confidence and pace were two other things mastered during this NCAA championship.

“She’s always been challenged a little bit by the pace of play, and we were taking about ways she could speed things up,” Gaston said of mental exercises. One of those solutions is Chen recognizing that when her play does slow, it’s a warning sign.

“She knows might be thinking about something a little too long and that doesn’t necessarily mean better shots,” Gaston said.

For Chen, maintaining confidence is a psyche job. She recalled the calming effect of Gaston walking with her on the course, talking of other things to help calm her at unnerving times. Knowing Gaston also must administer to her teammates, Chen said she thought, “How should I talk to myself?”

And so she did.

“What if Coach can’t be by my side at that moment?” she said, describing her thought processes. “What would it be like to calm myself as if Coach is right next to me, if Coach isn’t right next to me?”

“I told her I’m really proud of you because you picked up your pace and look what you did,” Gaston said.

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