BRADENTON, Fla. -- So, this match-play thing works.
Going toe-to-toe through a possible 36 holes -- and beyond -- in one day on Tuesday not only whittled the 2015 NCAA Division I Women’s Championship field from eight quarterfinalists to two Wednesday finalists, it produced the now-memorable semifinal drama between defending-champion Duke and Baylor.
Wednesday’s national-championship round at Concession Golf Club went Tuesday one better.
With Baylor and Stanford tied 2-2 early Wednesday evening after the first four championship matches had ended, all the golf balls came down to the lynchpin No. 5 pairing of Baylor senior Hayley Davis and Stanford junior Mariah Stackhouse.
Trailing by two points entering their final two holes, Stackhouse roared back to trim Davis’ lead to one point on No. 17 then tie her on No. 18, forcing extra holes. The playoff didn’t last long, with Davis missing her par putt on the par-four No. 10 and Stackhouse sticking hers to seal The Cardinal victory, but the new match-play format instituted for the 2015 Division 1 men’s and women’s tournaments has some new fans.
“I think we should keep it,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said with a smile.
“We’ve been here eight days now,” said Baylor head coach Jay Groble. “It is a true fight for the national championship and it was great.”
Stanford had a slightly easier time dispatching Pac-12 rival Southern California.
Then came Wednesday, with the Bears and The Cardinal riding their tournament-long momentum head-to-head. Both squads were pursuing their first NCAA championship.
I like it a lot,” Stackhouse said. “I wasn’t sold on it when it first started just because I always remembered how tired we always are at the end of four days of stroke play and so I was like, ‘oh god, when we’re done with that, we gotta go play more? What!’”
“I definitely like the format a lot more than the stroke play,’ said Stanford junior Lauren Kim, who lost her Wednesday match at No. 3 to Baylor freshman Dylan Kim. “It brings more of a team aspect into it. In the stroke play you’re focused on team and also on the individual and you’re competing simultaneously for a national championship. But the match play the way it is, it’s all team.”
Despite a heart-breaking loss, Baylor leaves Concession with lots of program “firsts” in 2015 -- a first Big 12 conference title, first NCAA regional title, a first top-10 NCAA championship finish and first NCAA runner-up finish.
“It’s great,” Goble said of match play. “I was the first one to be hesitant about it originally. I didn’t originally believe that it was a format that was broken, but again, going through the last two days, it’s really exciting. It’s really fun. It’s an emotional roller-coaster out there. I think that to go out there and fight it out the way you have to do in match play, it shows a lot of guts.”
Several players whose teams lost their Tuesday match-play rounds also were supportive of the new format.
“I was very excited for the match-play part because I didn’t do very well in stroke play on this course,” Arizona senior Manon Gidali said Tuesday after her Wildcats dropped their quarterfinal match to Stanford. “And growing up I’d been playing a lot of match play so I really know how to play that.”
Duke junior Celine Boutier appreciated the scoring work-arounds that match play presents on a tough course like Concession.
“On this course I like match play better because some of the holes are really tricky, so once you have a bad hole it’s just like done,” Boutier said Tuesday after the defending-champion Blue Devils’ quarterfinal victory over Texas Tech. “If it’s in stroke play, your scorecard is definitely going to suffer from it. In that sense I like match play better. I think it just depends on the people.”