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The magic of match play
Match play: golf’s great equalizer. It’s a format that we don’t see super often in golf in general, save every other year for the Solheim, Presidents, and Ryder Cups.
However, for women’s golf, it’s an even more rare occurrence (the men having one match play event every year at the WGC-Dell Technologies) so getting a double dose of it this week is a treat.
First up, we had the NCAA Division I Women’s National Championships that were held at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. The event consists of four days of qualifying stroke play to determine the eight teams that advance to match play and this year’s tournament didn’t disappoint in terms of impressive golf and great narratives.
The number one-seeded Stanford was taken down in the quarterfinals by Arizona and, in the semis, the Oklahoma State Cowgirls trounced the Duke Blue Devils, going 5 and 0 to move on to the finals against Ole Miss.
With both competing for their respective universities’ first women’s national championship in any sport, the storylines in the finals were spectacular.
The Rebels and the Cowgirls had never made it to match play previously and it seemed improbable that either would get to the championship showdown. Both squads had handily tackled teams that seemed more likely candidates for the finals and were riding waves of momentum into the last 18 holes.
The moment was poised to be titillating and it was ultimately Ole Miss who took home the victory in a demanding 4 and 1 win, proving that match play doesn’t care about prior experience or past history in a championship. It’s all about what you can do in the moment.
On the LPGA Tour, we have the Bank of Hope LPGA Match-Play Hosted by Shadow Creek this week in Las Vegas and yet again we are seeing why match play is truly the most interesting way to play the game.
Brooke Henderson, the fifth-ranked player in the world, fell to Jenny Coleman, who sits at 194 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, in the first of three round-robin days in a crazy upset.
Sei Young Kim, one of the LPGA’s more dominant players, tied her match with Ayako Uehara, and so did Jennifer Chang with Inbee Park.
And then there are the obvious, exciting, dominating matches like Danielle Kang winning 7&6 over Albane Valenzuela and Stacy Lewis going 5&4 over Mi Jung Hur.
It’s a fun way to watch golf that we don’t often get to see. It brings out an entirely different side of a player, something much more intense and ferocious, which, especially for the LPGA Tour, always makes for a more interesting narrative. You can palpably feel the need to win that isn’t always apparent in stroke play.
Why do you think the Solheim, Presidents, and Ryder Cups generate so much hype? It’s a rare opportunity to see players at their grittiest and most passionate moments and the vigor of their competitive drive isn’t watered down.
But truly the best part of match play is that it can change at any given moment. Hot players can go cold. Cold players can get hot. The best of the best don’t always win and even those who may not be playing well can eke out victories. You don’t have to be hitting it great or putting it well. You just have to beat the person in front of you.
Golf in general needs more match play, but women’s golf, in particular, could benefit greatly from permanently adding a match play event to the calendar. It’s great Solheim Cup preparation and allows the players a break from the normal stroke play rigamarole that can get tiresome after a while. Also, so many female players that come from the NCAA and amateur ranks have experience with the format so it’s not like it wouldn’t draw players to participate. It’s a win-win.
Match play brings out the best in golf and the best in the players and with the parity that can happen in this format, literally anything can happen and anyone can beat anyone, not matter world rank or past experience.
Who wouldn’t want to watch that?
This week in women’s golf
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Five at The IX: College Players to Watch
Women’s college golf is one of the more important institutions within the women’s game because it quite literally fuels the future and provides us with so many of the players that we love and follow on the LPGA Tour. If you want to know who’s going to be a world-beater in the pro game in a few years, NOW is when to pay attention. Here are five collegiate players that competed in this week’s national championship that you should keep your eyes on:
Rachel Heck, Stanford
Gina Kim, Duke
Linn Grant, Arizona State
Emma Spitz, UCLA
Kennedy Swann, Ole Miss
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