A few weeks after capturing its third straight Ivy League title, the Harvard women’s golf team earned its best finish in program history at the NCAA Central Regional at the Karsten Creek Country Club in Stillwater, Okla.
Having recently been crowned Ivy League Rookie of the Year, freshman Anne Cheng added to her accolades with a top-10 finish, and the squad took 13th out of 24 teams to conclude the year.
With the top eight groups from the regional qualifying for the NCAA Championship, the Crimson women were just nine strokes off the pace, a year after finishing 24 from the eighth spot at last year’s regional.
“Certainly, we’re getting closer to [qualifying] every year and making that a reality,” Harvard coach Kevin Rhoads said. “And [nine] shots over three days with five players—that’s really nothing—that could be done in a heartbeat.... I thought our games, with what we need to do when we go to Regionals, were very good.”
Third-ranked UCLA shot one-under par as a group on the final day and finished the event 17 shots ahead of ninth-ranked Alabama to take the tournament victory. The top eight finishers each came into the contest ranked in the top 40 nationally, with eight other ranked teams failing to make the final cut.
Cheng pieced together three solid rounds in her first showing at the national competition. Consistency was key for the freshman, who carded a 72, 73, and 74 for a three-round finish at three-over par.
Despite playing three rounds at what Rhoads deemed “one of the toughest courses in college golf,” Cheng didn’t have a single double-bogey or worse the whole tournament.
“The fairways weren’t extremely narrow, but if you accidentally missed a fairway, then you were almost guaranteed to be in a hazard,” Cheng said. “The greens were difficult to read, which made things tough.”
Cheng attributed much of her lack of stress on the course to Rhoads’ words before the tournament.
“In the beginning, [Rhoads] emphasized process and taking one shot at a time, and that there were no expectations so long as we did our best and what we were supposed to do,” Cheng said. “And now after the tournament, he was very happy with our performance and couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Shooting out of the number three position for the Crimson, sophomore Christine Lin finished tied for 32nd with a total score of 226. The second-team All-Ivy golfer improved her score with each day and jumped 18 spots on the last day.
Despite turning in three bogeys in the first five holes, Lin turned in a final round score of 74.
“I had a rough start [on day three], and I missed a few putts,” Lin said. “I think I was a little nervous going into the first few holes because I wanted to perform well for the team because I knew that today was very important.”
But after the bumpy ride through the first five, the sophomore rebounded to finish the last 13 holes of her second season at one-under par.
“I got a glimpse of the scoreboard after the first few holes and saw that my team was doing pretty well,” Lin said. “It gave me a lot of inspiration to keep pushing forward and not to get too down about my first few bogeys and finish strong in the end.”
Competing in her third NCAA Regional, junior Brenna Nelsen, who is also a Crimson sports executive, was the third-best Harvard golfer for the tournament. Despite shooting 14-over par on the back nine over the three rounds, she finished with consistent scores of 78, 79, and 78 to help keep the Crimson in the hunt for a qualifying position.
Junior Tiffany Lim and senior Bonnie Hu both had some struggles on the course on Thursday, with the former shooting three double-bogeys and the latter finishing with two double-bogeys and a triple-bogey of her own.
But despite the rough start, both had more success on day two, with Lim holing out three birdies to finish with a 75, and Hu shooting one-over par on both the front and back nine to card a 74.
Overall, the Crimson improved greatly on its NCAA Regional performance after coming in 20th at last year’s West Regional at Stanford, Calif.
“I think we did a really good job, and we have a lot of confidence in each other and each other’s games,” Lim said. “I don’t think we’re ever intimidated by any other teams…. For this tournament, we saw ourselves as a competitor, and I think we fulfilled that."
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.