NCAA Women’s Championship: Arizona takes down No. 1 seed Stanford with big birdie putt in quarters

·3 min read

Arizona brings the magic in NCAA match play. For the second time in the past three championships, the Wildcats were one of the last teams into the eight-team match-play bracket. On Tuesday morning at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, they faced No. 1 seed Stanford, which had just dusted the field by 13 shots in 72 holes of stroke play.

The improbable putts and gutsy finishes continue for Arizona, with Gile Bite Starkute playing the starring role this time. The sophomore from Lithuania took an unplayable from a bush on the 18th hole in her match against Angelina Ye but still made bogey (thanks to a four-footer she called “probably the most stressful of my life”) to force extra holes.

Starkute saw on a scoreboard that her match would be the deciding point. Teammates Vivian Hou and Yu-Sang Hou had already put up points. She hit her approach at the par 4 to the back fringe and had roughly 30 feet remaining for birdie.

Assistant coach Justin Bubser told her to just make it. Starkute did, and Arizona erupted.

“Not gonna lie, in that bush I thought that was it,” Starkute told Golf Channel at the conclusion of the match. “As the coaches always say, you fight until the last shot and that’s what it came to.”

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The putt was reminiscent of one that former Arizona player Bianca Pagdanganan made to keep Arizona’s title run alive back in 2018 at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Pagdanganan had a similar downhill putt – except it was for eagle – from behind the hole to force a playoff for the final spot in match play. Arizona went on to make the bracket, then win all three matches for the title.

With Stanford’s loss, a streak remains at the NCAA Women’s Championship: In the seven years since match play was introduced at the 2015 championship, no No. 1 seed has won the title.

Scoring: NCAA Women’s Championship

Arizona will meet the Ole Miss in the afternoon semifinals after the Rebels flipped two matches in extra holes to advance past Texas, 3-1.

On the other side of the bracket, defending champion Duke will face off against Oklahoma State.

The Blue Devils look much different from the last time they won this title. Only Gina Kim and Jaravee Boonchant remain from that team. Kim was a freshman when Duke won in 2019, and put up a clutch performance in match play. On Tuesday, she won, 2 and 1, against Arizona State big gun Olivia Mehaffey.

Freshman Anne Chen put a point on the board early with a 7-and-5 victory over Alessandra Fanali. Classmate Phoebe Brinker put the deciding point on the board for Duke when she defeated Amanda Linner, 2 and 1.

As for Oklahoma State, the Cowgirls were the first team to advance to the next round on Tuesday morning after knocking out Auburn, 4-1.