No. 11 USC was fully back into the swing of things — or it seemed to be that way. After failing to retain their Icon Invitational championship, the Trojans looked to bounce back and capture another title. After a strong start, USC struggled in the final round and had to take second place in the Juli Inkster at Meadow Club Invitational in Fairfax, California.
With the added complication of top player sophomore Cindy Kou being away at the Asian Pacific Amateur Championship, the Trojans had a lot of pressure on them.
“I think we would have won the tournament with Cindy,” said head coach Justin Silverstein. “She is great at the really little things, like bunker play, chipping, speed on the green, stroke maintenance and knowing your yardage, and this golf course required all of that.”
With Kou gone, it was expected of sophomore Amari Avery and junior Brianna Navarrosa to step up. Avery, another top scorer, delivered and then some. She tied for third place and was the only Trojan to shoot under par. Navarrosa has been in a slump in past tournaments, but the stakes of this event gave her the push she needed to find her groove. In the second round, Navarrosa started collecting birdies and hitting the golf ball long and straight. Navarrosa finished tied for ninth place, playing very consistently.
The standout for USC, though, was freshman Catherine Park. She picked up the slack with Cindy being gone and delivered in a big way. The lone true freshman on the team tied for sixth and was the second lowest scorer for the Trojans. Junior Christine Wang wasn’t as consistent as her teammates, but her second round was a career-best 66 and the lowest score of the day for all players. This secured second place for the Trojans, because No. 5 San Jose State was only three strokes behind.
“[Wang has] been working hard, really smart, her game has looked great the past few weeks,” Silverstein said. “So we have been waiting for a bust out performance like that.”
USC was fully aware of the pressure, and for the first two rounds it didn’t show any cracks. In the first round, the Trojans had second place behind eventual winner, No. 1 Stanford. However, USC was not far behind, with its overall score only being five strokes above Stanford’s. A great second round allowed the Trojans to over take the lead from the Cardinal.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, just as their play started looking promising, it soon went south for them. The third round was the worst round for them, scoring 298 overall, 11 strokes higher than their first round and 20 higher than their second round. This ended up being detrimental to USC and lost it the lead.
“We putted awful this week, and I think it finally caught up to us,” Silverstein said. “The greens were really wet and really slow. Traditionally in the last five years since we changed our home course, we have really struggled with slow greens.”
The other major difference-maker would be sophomore Rose Zhang of Stanford. Zhang was eleven under par, all her rounds were 70 or under and she birdied the last three holes to win individually. Zhang’s great performance was the downfall for the Trojans.
“I think we played those last few holes just as poorly as Stanford. They just happened to have someone get hot,” Silverstein said.
Silverstein was disappointed in the outcome, but he sees a bright future for his team.
“We had a firm grasp on that trophy and let it go late in the third round, which is disappointing,” he said. “But it was our third tournament in a row, and we put ourselves in position to win. That’s really all I can ask for. If we keep doing that, good things are going to happen.
“If we hit like this and putt like we did in Houston, we will win everytime. We’ve gotten so much better since January. If we can get the same amount better from now until May, we are going to have a chance to lift some really big trophies in the postseason.”
The Trojans have a little over two weeks, and few days off, until their next tournament at the PING/ASU Invitational in Tempe, Arizona. With the whole team now playing well and Kou being back, USC will look to capture gold for the first time this spring between March 24-26.