Johansson Qualifies for NCAA Championships
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Needing a spectacular final round to move into one of the top six spots and qualify for NCAA Championships, the Kentucky women's golf answered the bell in the final round of the South Bend Regional on Saturday, just barely coming up short of the program's first berth at the NCAA Championships since 1992.
Ultimately the Wildcats fell four shots short of the all-important sixth-place spot, but freshman Isabelle Johansson capped a thrilling final round for UK by qualifying for the NCAA Championships. Johansson finished the best tournament of her young collegiate career with a final-day 75 to finish at 3-over par (219) for the tournament and in a tie for 10th place.
Johansson and a host of other Wildcats helped Kentucky to a seventh-place finish at the South Bend Regional, UK's best postseason finish under the watch of Golda Johansson Borst.
"Wow, what an awesome day for Kentucky women's golf today," Borst said. "It's been an emotional roller coaster with almost making it as a team to having Bella and Haley (Mills) play in a three-hole playoff against a Kent State player. This team showed so much character and heart today. They knew what they had to do and came out and shot the lowest round of the day. We always talk about finding a way and giving everything you have for Kentucky and that is what they did today. We may have fallen short, but after the season we have had, it felt like a win. We made Kentucky women's golf history today and that is something to build on."
Johansson held off fellow Wildcat Haley Mills and Kent State's Taylor Kim in a three-hole playoff to claim the third and final individual qualifying spot for the NCAA Championships. Johansson carded pars on all three playoff holes, eliminating Kim on the second playoff hole when she recorded a bogey. Both Johansson and Mills missed the green on the third playoff hole, but Johansson got up and down for a par and eliminated Mills when she bogeyed.
Johansson, who recorded a tournament-best 43 pars in 54 holes, will now head to the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., for the NCAA Championships, to be held May 22-27. It's the first time a Wildcat has qualified for the NCAA Championships as an individual since Heather Kraus in 1998.
"It feels surreal," Johansson said of qualifying. "I've been working so hard this semester with both school and golf. It's been a challenge and a grind, but the hard work paid off and I couldn't be happier."
Johansson was solid from start to finish in this week's South Bend Regional at the Warren Golf Course, playing the best golf of her career when the Wildcats needed her the most. The freshman opened the week with a 2-under 70 on Thursday -- the best round of her collegiate career -- and remained on the leaderboard for the rest of the week with consistent, nearly error-free golf.
On the final day of the tournament, Johansson shot a 75 to hang on the leaderboard and put herself in position for the playoff. She didn't qualify for the NCAA Championships without a little pressure from one of her own teammates.
Mills, who started the day in a tie for 29th, roared into contention on the final 18 holes with a barrage of final-round birdies. The Tyler, Texas native recorded five birdies on Saturday to post a spectacular 2-under 70.
Thanks to her single-season school record 10th round of even par or better this season, Mills finished the week at 3-over par, just missing out on an NCAA Championships berth when she bogeyed her third playoff hole.
"Both Bella and Haley played hard and hit some fantastic shots," Borst said. "They both had great composure and handled the situation very well. It's unfortunate that we couldn't get both girls in, but it was a big day for Kentucky women's golf as we haven't had an individual or team qualify for the national championship in a long time."
The top six teams in this week's 18-team regional in South Bend, Ind., will advance -- along with the top six teams from each of the other three regionals -- to the NCAA Championships. UK looked like it was out of contention when it started the day in 12th place and nine shots back of sixth place, but with Mills, junior Cylia Damerau and freshman Grace Rose all going low on Saturday, the Wildcats made things interesting and marched up the leaderboard in the final round.
With Mills' 2-under round and Damerau's final-day 1-under performance -- her second round in red numbers in the last two tournaments -- the Wildcats posted the best final-round score of the 18 teams on Saturday with a 2-over-par 290 and applied a ton of pressure on Tulane and Purdue. In the end, Tulane and Purdue (24-over par) finished four shots clear of Kentucky par and punched the final South Bend Regional tickets to the NCAA Championships, but UK's performance on the final 18 holes was certainly something to build on for the future for a team that boasts a number of freshmen and zero seniors.
The Wildcats finished the weekend in seventh place overall at 28-over par, their best regional finish in their fifth straight regional appearance under Borst. Their 54-hole score of 892 was their best since the UCF Challenge in February. With 34 birdies during the week, the third most in the field, UK finished ahead of seven teams that started the week ahead of Kentucky in the national rankings.
With Rose (11-over par) tying for 41st, three Wildcats posted top-50 finishes. Damerau (14-over par) wasn't far behind in 56th place, and junior Sarah Harris (20-over par) tied for 86th.
Duke went wire to wire to claim this week's South Bend Regional. The Blue Devils won the championship with a score of 9-over par, edging out Wake Forest (12-over par), UC Davis (20-over par) and Arizona (22-over par). Duke's Leona Maguire won the individual title at 4-under par, seven shots ahead of Johansson and Mills.
T10. Isabelle Johansson: 70+74+75=219 (+3)
T10. Haley Mills: 74+75+70=219 (+3)
T41. Grace Rose: 77+76+74=227 (+11)
T56. Cylia Damerau: 80+79+71=230 (+14)
T84. Sarah Harris 80+76+80=236 (+20)
7. Kentucky: 301+301+290=892 (+28)
2015 NCAA Championship -- South Bend Regional
South Bend, Ind.
Warren Golf Course
-- Kentucky Golf (@UKWomensGolf) May 11, 2015