Stanford natty redemption arc — Nelly Korda and Gianna Clemente win at Mizuho

The IX: Golf Thursday with Addie Parker, May 23, 2024

Welcome to Golf Thursday! And just like that, the 2023-24 NCAA golf season is over — with the Stanford Cardinal emerging victorious. In their post–Rose Zhang era, Stanford and head coach Anne Walker put in the time to rally as a team and bounce back after missing the finals last year. The script couldn’t have been written any better. As the days of the Pac-12 came to an end, the conference came to play, with four of the final eight teams hailing from the West Coast. With unexpected matchups, rematches and the defending champs faltering, a lot went down. Let’s take a closer look at how things played out at the Omni La Costa Resort in SoCal.

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So what happened to Wake Forest? Well, the defending champs were four spots from the top eight heading into Monday’s final round of stroke play, with senior Mimi Rhodes leading the way with an even-par finish for T-10.

They missed the match-play rounds by two strokes, being edged out by Auburn.

Rachel Kuehn, the undisputed leader of the Demon Deacons, finished two strokes behind Rhodes — ending her career with a final round one-under 71 to close out the week at two over par. Despite a disappointing finish, Kuehn will go down as one of the best golfers in Wake’s program history, with a rap sheet that includes eight individual titles in her five seasons, back-to-back ACC Player of the Year accolades, five Arnold Palmer Cups, two Curtis Cups and four Augusta National Women’s Amateurs appearances.

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The battle for the individual title appeared to be a walk in the park for ANWA champ Lottie Woad, who carded a seven-under 65 during the first round. But consistency is key in the postseason, and Adela Cernousek (the third-year player from Texas A&M) was on automatic, firing 68-68-68-72 over the four days to finish at 12-under and capture the title.

Although it was a rough week for the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world, LSU’s Ingrid Lindblad left California with some hardware of her own, being named the 2024 ANNIKA Award winner. The ANNIKA Award is awarded to the top woman Division I collegiate golfer, voted on by players, coaches and members of the golf media.

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Once stroke play had concluded and an individual champion was crowned, the gauntlet of women’s college golf commenced, with Stanford as the No. 1 seed.

En route to victory, Stanford took down Auburn in Round 1 without conceding a single match (tying only two of them).

Heading into semis, it was a rematch of last year’s matchup between the Cardinal and USC, but this time around it was Stanford that got revenge, winning three of five matches and tying one.

The Pac-12 final match-play showdown between Stanford and UCLA was nothing short of dramatic, coming down to the final match between Rachel Heck and Kate Villegas.

And man, oh man … take a bow, Rachel Heck. The senior shocked just about everyone in and around golf when she announced that she was not pursuing professional golf at the end of her final college season. Dare I say that decision freed her up to just enjoy her final days as a collegiate player? Soak in all the “lasts” with her team and play golf without inhibitions.

Her stellar play started soon into the postseason. At the Pac-12 conference championship, she finished inside the top 10. At regionals she was absolutely on fire, carding a second-round 65 (seven-under), solidifying her ninth career win, despite considering withdrawing due to pain. And in stroke play this week, she finished inside the top 30, playing relatively pain-free and consistently.

It’s five days of the most demanding golf that these players can go through, but Heck led her team and sealed the deal in the final pairing during Wednesday’s final pairing. She had a commanding lead over Villegas the entire match, winning 4&3.

“This is an outrageous amount of golf,” said Walker. “There was always a question mark around ‘Can she get through this?’ When we were putting the pairings out, it was not by accident that we put Rachel in that last spot. We knew the gravity of today. She’s a mature kid who’s been through a lot. It felt like it would take a lot to rattle her, and I think that’s what we saw today.”

That was the icing on the cake for Stanford, and such a delight to watch.

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This week in women’s golf

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LPGA news

Nelly Korda comes up clutch, captures sixth victory of 2024 season at Liberty National GC

Olympic golf ranking top 60 taking shape as end of qualification period nears

Hannah Green has near-miss at Mizuho Americas Open

Podcast: Nelly Korda’s monster 2024 continues with sixth LPGA title in eight starts

10 noteworthy players who advanced through qualifying for the 79th U.S. Women’s Open

LET news

Field breakdown: Jabra Ladies Open

France’s Pauline-Roussin Bouchard homecoming week in Evian

Alexandra Forsterling clinches fourth LET title with playoff win on home soil

Epson Tour news

Records fall as Fiona Xu wins the 2024 Copper Rock Championship

Catching up with the busiest person in women’s golf

NCAA/amateur news

This 16-year-old played with Nelly Korda and Hannah Green on Sunday at the Mizuho Americas Open. Here’s what she learned from the LPGA stars.

Adela Cernousek almost left Texas A&M before her career started. Now she’s an NCAA individual champion.

As proposed NCAA settlement allowing revenue sharing faces possible legal hurdle, how will it affect golf?

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Five at The IX: Gianna Clemente on playing alongside Nelly Korda and Hannah Green

The teenage sensation has been a force in the world of amateur golf, and her win at the 2024 AJGA Mizuho Americas Open has solidified her spot as a top-25 player at 16 years old. Here’s what she had to say after her round Sunday.

Q. Getting to play with the two that ended up separating from the rest of the group and getting that experience being in the final group, what did you learn most from today and the experience of playing with Hannah and Nelly?

GIANNA CLEMENTE: I think just watching them and their composure. Obviously, they’re pretty much in the same situation that I am, just on a bigger stage.

You know, both were very, very close, and, even though I wasn’t playing with my competitors, I knew it was really close. So to watch them really stay composed and patient, which is what I was trying to do as well, I think just watching them do that was really cool.

Q. You got to watch history today. Playing alongside Nelly Korda. Is there anything that stood out to you from maybe her game or were you just locked in on yours?

GIANNA CLEMENTE: I think just, again, her composure. I know she didn’t play 100% today, but just watching her take it one shot at a time. Again, that is what I was trying to do as well. Just watching that and knowing that I’m trying to do that as well. But to be able to watch it from inside the ropes is a really cool perspective.

So just to watch her try to stay patient and just grind out the day, it was really cool to watch.

Q. And for you, you’ve had so many incredible achievements on the golf course and we are familiar with you from a couple years ago. Where does this one rank for you? This is pretty big event to win tied in with Michelle Wie and now with Nelly and Rose. For you, where does this one rank?

GIANNA CLEMENTE: Very high. Last year I definitely didn’t play the way I wanted to, but this is just such a beautiful place and such a special event. I think that just the way the event is run, the people here obviously getting to play alongside the pros, it doesn’t get much better than that.

To be able to win at a place like this and an event like this, it’s really, really special.

Q. You’ve been in the mix and been headliner in some of the bigger events earlier this year, namely the ANWA. What have you learned about how to handle the attention? You said earlier this week you don’t mind it, you like it. How have you learned to do that at such a young age?

GIANNA CLEMENTE: I think blocking a little bit of it out just comes with experience. Like at Augusta obviously the crowds were very loud and very, very close to you as well.

And being in that final group I think just taught me a little bit of how to block it out even more. It’s good, you know, when the crowds are embracing you and want to see you win and things like that.

So it’s good when it’s a positive on the positive side, but sometimes you do have to block it out. I think it just comes with experience. Just kind of knowing that they’re going to be loud and they’re going to be right up close. Yeah, just comes with experience for sure.

Q. You had one heck of a pairing today with Nelly and Hannah, friendliest golfers on tour. Did you get a chance to chat with them at all during the round?

GIANNA CLEMENTE: Yeah, I talked to Hannah quite a lot just about college and turning professional and things like that. She was very supportive in everything she was saying.

Obviously, under a lot of pressure I know it can be difficult to start conversation, but she did a really good job just being supportive of everything that I’m doing and hope to do in the future as well.

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Written by Addie Parker