For the first time in 12 years, the entire Princeton women’s golf team opened the NCAA regional tournament on Monday at the University of Georgia’s golf course in Athens, Ga. The Tigers’ spot in the competition was a result of earning the Ivy League's automatic bid after a 31-stroke victory over Harvard at the Ivy League Championships, which ended on April 23.
The tournament started off with a total of 18 teams, including host Georgia, Northwestern, and Quinnipiac. In the first round on Monday, the Orange and Black’s team of five — sophomore Tiana Lau, freshman Maya Walton, senior Hana Ku, freshman Alison Chang and sophomore Amber Wang — teed off at 9:09 a.m.
Through the first 18 holes, Michigan State, Alabama, Georgia, Northwestern, Baylor, and Tennessee were positioned as the top six teams to move on to the next round. However, at the eighth hole, the Tigers put themselves in a strong position to beat out one of those teams and continue as well. Chang, who tied for 24th at +2, was the Tigers’ top performer. Right behind her, and tied for 30th, were Walton and Lau at +3. Ku and Wang ended at 38th and 67th out of 96 total competitors.
Tuesday was an earlier morning for the Princeton players, who teed off at 7:33 a.m. While the whole team ended its play in 11th place, there was one Tiger whose play ranked among the best and pushed her to the final rounds. Although only a freshman, Maya Walton was in a group of seven players who were just one shot back at +1, behind the tournament’s top 3 players — Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho, College of Charleston's Laura Fuenfstueck and University of North Carolina's Leslie Cloots. Walton closed her day with a birdie on three of her last four holes, improving her play by a total of fives strokes on Tuesday’s round.
Wednesday was another early morning at 7:33 a.m., but the Tigers remained energized and ready for play. Walton played some of the best golf that she has played all season, achieving an individual bid for the final round of the tournament. She repeated her play from Tuesday, birdieing on holes seven, eight, and nine to move from 1-over to 2-under. Walton’s play was not only fantastic, but also record-breaking — she will be the third Tiger and the first Princeton freshman to play in the NCAA finals.
The entire team of Tigers finished in 11th place. Their best play of the tournament was in the final round on Wednesday, ending with a 6-over 294 to finish at +36. Alabama won the entire regional over runner-up Northwestern, with Baylor, Clemson, Michigan State, and North Carolina rounding out the six advancing teams. Walton will play among those teams and a field of 132 players on May 19 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.