The Georgia women’s golf team captured the team and individual titles at the NCAA Columbus Regional in impressive fashion on Wednesday. The Bulldogs wrapped up play on the OSU Scarlet Course at 1-over 865 to earn a 15-shot victory over the runner-up, No. 2 Duke. Junior Jenny Bae won medalist honors after shooting 4-under 212, three shots ahead of the rest of the field.
Georgia and Bae entered Wednesday with seven- and one-shot leads, respectively, before widening those gaps in the final round.
“The journey that we’ve been on the past couple of years to have a chance to go to nationals, we’re enjoying this and are going to soak it in for about 24 hours,” head coach Josh Brewer said. “Then, we’ll worry about the national championships. It’s nice to see them rewarded because honestly we haven’t had the success this spring that we wanted. No disrespect to any tournament we’ve played up to this point, but I wouldn’t trade this victory for anything. We’ll try to go get one more.”
The Bulldogs will be among 24 teams competing in the NCAA Championships on May 21-16 at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. Also advancing from Columbus were the Blue Devils, No. 7 Arizona State, Kentucky, Michigan and No. 15 Kent State.
The Bulldogs were set to host a Regional last spring before the season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Regional title is Georgia’s fifth all time since the format was adopted in 1993, following victories in 1993, 1998, 1999 and 2016. The Bulldogs now rank fourth nationally in Regional wins, trailing only Southern Cal, Duke and UCLA. Bae is Georgia’s third Regional medalist, joining Reilley Rankin in 1998 and Bailey Tardy in 2016.
“It’s number five in our illustrious history,” Brewer said. “We’ve worked hard to connect with our alumni. (Former coach) Beans Kelly and (golfers) Nanci Bowen and Vicki Goetze and Alina Lee a lot of those ladies – and I’m sorry I know I’m missing a bunch – but they’ve done a wonderful job sending us messages this week. We know they’ve been cheering us on, and they’ve sent voice mails. This is a win for all of those ladies because they’ve meant so much to me since I’ve been here.”
All five Bulldogs played a role in the victory. Candice Mahé and Isabella Holpfer also tied for fifth individually at 1-over 217. Jo Hua Hung led Georgia in the final round with a 3-under 69. Caterina Don posted two counting rounds, including birdies on two of her last three holes on Tuesday when the Bulldogs moved atop the leaderboard.
“Jo made the U.S. Open last week but didn’t play her best this week,” Brewer said. “For her to come back with eight birdies today to shoot 69 was incredible. Candice and Isabella both finish ’t-5’. To have three players in the top-5 at Regionals doesn’t happen often. Caterina had two crucial birdies late in the day yesterday. Hat’s off to everyone throughout the lineup. This truly was a team win.”
Bae began the day as the individual leader and remained there almost exclusively. She turned at 2-under before a bogey at No. 10 and a double at No. 11. She quickly bounced back to play her final seven holes at even par.
“She knew where she stood,” Brewer said. “She also wanted to how the team was doing. She got very unfortunate at No. 11. Her ball was about four inches off the fairway, but we just couldn’t find it. We found it after the fact. That was very frustrating. For her to suck it up after she made a double there shows her guts in intestinal fortitude. What a way to get your first win in college.”
“Every day is a new day and you don’t know what is going to happen,” Bae said. “I just tried to approach today hole by hole. This week my short game was really good, especially my putting. Without putting yesterday I don’t think I would have made all those birdies, and I think that really helped today too.”
While happy with her victory, the team win was perhaps most significant for Bae.
“Honestly, I have mixed feelings,” Bae said. “I’m very excited. I’m very honored to win this. Also, the fact that I won Regionals and our team won first place and the fact that all of us are going to nationals is a huge relief and reward for all of us. We’re all really happy. It’s an honor (to go to nationals). Not many people get to go because you have to get into top-6 at Regionals, and we prepare for that the entire year. Our team worked really hard during both semesters, and we showed it here and we’re ready to show it there.”
After Hung’s 3-under loop, the Bulldogs also counted a 71 from Mahé, a 73 from Bae and a 75, the score posted by both Don and Holpfer on Wednesday.
Hung’s back-and-forth day featured eight birdies, six pars, three bogeys and a double. She turned at 1-over and dropped another stroke with a bogey at No. 10. Hung rallied for a birdie at No. 12 and then finished her loop with a quartet of birdies.
Mahé’s day was much more steady. Her only non-par on the front side was a birdie at No. 6. After dropping back to even with a bogey at No. 13, Mahé birdied No. 17 to move back into red numbers.
Georgia has used seven different lineups in 10 tournaments this season. The quartet for Regionals only played together once before this week, placing fifth at the Blessings Collegiate Invitational in the season opener last October.
“For me, it’s been stressful,” Brewer said. “I’m sure it has been for them too. We know we’re deep. We feel like it we could play seven or eight we could take on anyone in the country. We’ve had to figure out the five each week and to be honest, to their credit they kept battling. We qualified for Regionals. Only two people were exempt. We teed it up. I’ve always tried to recruit by telling them ‘You’re going to get chances.’”
The NCAA Championships will feature 54 holes of stroke play next Friday-Sunday. The field will then be cut to the top-15 teams and the top-9 golfers not on advancing teams. That group will compete a fourth round of stroke play on Monday (May 24), with the NCAA individual champion crowned after 72 holes and the top-8 teams entering a match play bracket. The quarterfinals and semifinals of match play will be May 25 and the championship will be held on May 26.
Georgia will be returning to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2016, when the Bulldogs finished 18th. Georgia has a storied history of success at the national championships. Since 1979, the Bulldogs have recorded 26 top-20 and 20 top-10 finishes at the NCAAs, including winning the 2001 national title. Three Georgia golfers have claimed individual national titles – Terri Moody (AIAW in 1981), Cindy Schreyer (NCAA in 1984) and Vicki Goetze (NCAA in 1992). Bulldogs have combined to record 36 top-20 individual finishes at the national championships.