This article, written by Kevin Casey, was originally published by Golfweek.com.
Another year, another USC win.
But yeah, the details might have been slightly different.
The Trojans pummeled Reunion Resort’s Watson Course on Tuesday, closing with a 12-under 276 – the round of the day by four shots – to rocket from 13 behind to a season-opening victory at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate Presented by 3M.
On the most difficult of the three days, the Trojans somehow had no problem putting up good scores. Four USC players were under par (with Tiffany Chan’s 73 being the outlier) as the Trojans raced to a 24-under total and a two-shot victory. Just like last year.
Well, at least the winning part.
At Reunion in 2015, the Trojans won the ANNIKA Intercollegiate by stomping the field from start to finish. It ended in a 23-shot triumph. There was no doubt as they finished up which team was on top.
This time around? Victoria Morgan, a USC senior, thought there was a glitch when she heard the team was four ahead when it finished.
“When I got off the course and coach told me we were in the lead, I thought Golfstat’s live scoring must be wrong,” Morgan said.
Chan, a fellow senior, was also incredulous when notified of the four-shot clubhouse cushion.
“What?” Chan said. “Wow, I didn’t know that.”
But it was true, and hard to believe for even those who watched. Again, USC started the day 13 BEHIND against arguably the best regular-season field in women’s college golf. Yet by the middle of the back nine Tuesday, USC was suddenly within one.
Then the Trojans were up by one. And after a barrage of birdies down the stretch, in a flash, they had upped their lead to four, where it would remain when the Trojans posted in the clubhouse ahead of the leaders. That margin would be cut in half in the end with Arkansas rising to second at 22 under, but it hardly mattered for USC.
It was a comeback to relive for some time. Even more so because Morgan, who finished T-8 this week after struggling to a tie for 53rd here last year, can’t think of one near-comparable in her time at USC.
“I definitely have not played in one that’s close to this,” Morgan said. “I can’t remember another time when we brought it back like this.”
Left in the wake of the Trojan flood, UCLA, the top-ranked team in the nation from 2015-16, dropped from the lead to solo third at 20 under thanks to a final-round 5-over 293. Georgia, which held a two-shot lead as it closed its front nine Tuesday, ultimately started to unravel when sophomore Bailey Tardy triple bogeyed the par-4 ninth. She’d still manage to finish in a tie for third in the individual competition, but Georgia dropped from a mid-day 23 under to 19 under (final-round 288) and solo fourth.
On the individual side, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi took the title at 11 under, with UCLA’s Lilia Vu second one shot back. USC, meanwhile, only put one player (Morgan, 7 under) in the top 10. Chan, Gabriella Then and Robynn Ree all finished in a tie for 17th at 4 under, with Karen Chung (last year’s medalist at the ANNIKA) 25th at 2 under. You don’t get to No. 2 in the country in 2015-16 without boasting some depth.
And apparently it doesn’t happen if you’re serious all the time.
Just a day before, USC wasn’t even a factor in the tournament, sitting that 13 shots behind in a tie for fourth. But you hardly would’ve noticed with this team. OK, the players weren’t particularly pleased with their performance, that’s for sure. Yet, they still managed to enjoy the evening.
A lengthy weather delay near the end of Monday’s second round split the Trojans up. Three finished before the weather hit, but Morgan and Chan were left out on the course, having to wait it out nearly two hours just to finish one hole.
Consequently, the team wasn’t all together Monday night. While Chung and Ree hung at the team hotel, Morgan, Chan and Then went to grab dinner at Red Robin. Motivation and belief for the next day was brought up at the dinner, but golf talk was mostly eschewed.
Instead, there was humor. At one point, Then started placing toothpicks in Morgan’s hair and continued to do for a couple of minutes, capitalizing on Morgan’s failure to notice.
“I put my hand back to fix my hair, and it felt like it was a porcupine because there were so many toothpicks,” Morgan said.
The night before – following the team’s T-3 start through 18 holes – at the ANNIKA Award Presented by 3M banquet on site, it was more of the same. Then put a ball of butter in Morgan’s iced tea, which Morgan then nearly drank. Fortunately for her, Morgan looked down in her glass when Then offered a toast, and noticed the addition before it was too late.
And Then got her comeuppances.
“I probably lightly – maybe not so lightly punched her,” Morgan said, with a laugh.
Goofy off the golf course, but killers on it. That seems to be the USC way at the moment.
And if you thought the Trojans were scary when they could blowout fields, well…
“This (coming from behind) is a much bigger deal for our team than dominating from the start because we haven’t been able to do it in the past,” Morgan said. “It was huge for us to see that we can stage a comeback like that.”
It was done in different styles, but a win at the ANNIKA for a second straight year elicits the same message: Beware USC.