Anything can happen.
That’s the mindset Arizona women’s golf is playing with Tuesday as they take on Stanford in the match play quarterfinals round of the NCAA Championship.
Yes, Arizona is the No. 8 seed and heavy underdog against a Cardinal team playing its best golf of the season. Yes, the Wildcats needed some late stroke play heroics just to advance to quarterfinals.
When the two Pac-12 foes tee off at 7:10 a.m. MST on the first hole of Scottdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club, all that goes out the window.
“Match play is going to be great for us because it doesn’t matter if you start off with a triple bogey or if you birdie all the next few holes,” Arizona head coach Laura Ianello said Monday. “Anything’s possible and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Ianello speaks from experience. In 2018, the Wildcats were the last team to qualify for match play, then upset top seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals and No. 4 seed Stanford in the semis. Arizona went on to beat Alabama to win the national title.
Only one player from that 2018 team remains—junior Yu-Sang Hou. Hou started in all three of Arizona’s match play contests, dropping quarterfinals and semifinals points but delivering a crucial championship round point against the Crimson Tide.
Junior Ya-Chun Chang also has NCAA Championship experience from being apart of the 2019 Arizona team that reached the semifinals. Chang scored a match play point that year in the Wildcats’ quarterfinals victory over USC.
For Arizona to advance to its third straight semifinals, they will also need steady performances from Vivian Hou, Gile Bite Starkue and Therese Warner.
Vivian, Yu-Sang’s younger sister, entered the season as the top amateur golfer in the world but has been hampered by a torn hip labrum this spring.
“I kind of have to deal with it so taking Ibuprofen and Tylenol is the only thing I can do right now,” Vivian said last week. “I just try to do my best every time when I’m on the course. It’s definitely a whole new experience for me playing with injuries.”
Starkute is coming off the best back-to-back rounds of her life. She shot a career-low 68 on Sunday followed by a 69 on Monday, all after shooting a horrendous 85 on Saturday.
If Starkute is on her game again Tuesday, she gives Arizona a good chance of securing one of three points to win the best-of-five match play format.
More than likely, the Wildcats will need at least one point from the Hou sisters, who are consistently the team’s top two seeded golfers.
That means they’ll potentially go head-to-head against Stanford’s top two players, Rachel Heck and Brooke Seay.
Heck, only a freshman, just won the NCAA individual title by shooting six under-par across four rounds of stroke play. Heck also won the Pac-12 Tournament individual championship.
Seay, a sophomore, went three-over in stroke play which was three strokes better than Arizona’s highest finishers, Yu-Sang Hou and Starkute at six-over.
Heck and Seay give Stanford a formidable advantage at the top of the card but if either stumble, Arizona could suddenly find itself in the driver’s seat Tuesday morning.
This is match play, after all, where anything can happen.
You can follow the match live here, and Golf Channel will air live coverage beginning at 9:00 a.m. MST.