Smith Closes with 64, Wins Big Ten Title; Minnesota Is 11th
April 25, 2021
MAINEVILLE, Ohio -- Kate Smith set a record by winning five consecutive Minnesota state high school championships while she was playing for Detroit Lakes, from 2012 to 2016. She also won the Resorters in 2016. In 2019, she won the Minnesota Women's State Open, and last year she won the Women's State Amateur. But she hadn't won a college tournament until a little more than a month ago, when she won the Allstate Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate.
On Sunday, the fifth-year senior at Nebraska claimed her second college title, and did it in spectacular fashion.
Starting the final round of the Big Ten Conference Championships four strokes out of the lead, Smith hit the accelerator early and never let up. The 2020 MGA Women's co-Player of the Year birdied the first two holes at TPC River's Bend, and the fourth. From there, she went on to make another five birdies and no bogeys for an 8-under-par 64. It matched the best score of her college career -- and earned her the 2021 Big Ten individual championship.
Smith, who is No. 32 in the current Golfweek NCAA Division I Rankings, posted a winning total of 207 (9 under). Northwestern sophomore Irene Kim (No. 19) began the day tied with Smith for eighth place. She birdied three holes in a row on the front nine (6, 7 and 8) and was only one behind Smith after 11 holes, but she then made six pars in a row before concluding her round with a birdie. Meanwhile, Smith was sprinting to the finish with three birdies in her last seven holes.
Kim shot a 67, but that was three too many, and she had to settle for second at 210. Michigan State's Valery Plata and Ashley Lau of Michigan tied for third at 211. Xiaolin Tian of Maryland finished alone in fifth at 212.
Plata shot 68 on Sunday, which helped Michigan State break out of a tie wtih Maryland and win the team title with a cumulative 853. With Smith leading the way, Nebraska turned in the lowest team total of the day, a 281 (7 under), and that enabled the Huskers to move up into a tie with Maryland and Michigan for second at 858. Northwestern was another nine behind in fifth at 867.
Minnesota got off to a bad start on Friday, with a first-round 306, but came back with a 290 on Saturday. On Sunday, the Gophers could do no better than 306, however, and they finished 11th with an overall 901. Grace Curran was the team's highest finisher; she closed with a 74 and tied for 24th at 222.
Smith opened the Big Ten tournament with a 72 and followed it with a 71.
Laura Van Respaille of Maryland was the 36-hole leader with a 139 (70-69), but she parred the first five holes on Sunday and bogeyed the 517-yard, par-5 sixth. Up ahead of her, Smith had made birdies at the first (384 yards, par 4), the second (375, par 4) and the fourth (315, par 4). Smith also birdied the par--3 seventh (138 yard), and when Van Respaille bogeyed it, Smith had the lead, by two over both Van Respaille and Kim.
Kim had birdied the sixth and seventh, and when she made it three in a row with a birdie at the 524-yard, par-5 eighth, she was back within one of Smith. That was how it stood when they made the turn.
Smith and Kim stayed in formation as they both birdied the 457-yard, par-5 11th. Van Respaille made her first birdie of the day at the 12th, a 145-yard par 3, which got her back to within one of Kim and two Smith. But Smith separated herself with consecutive birdies at the 14th (410 yards, par 4) and 15th (378, par 4), and Van Respaille dropped out of the race with bogeys at the 14th and the 16th (170, par 3).
All three of them capped off their rounds with birdies at the 477-yard, par-5 18th. Van Respaille wound up with a 74 and tied for sixth at 213, along with Sarah Wills of Purdue.
For Smith, the 64 on Sunday equaled the score she shot in the second round of the 2018 Westrbook Spring Invitational, where she finished second. She is the third Nebraska woman to win a conference individual title, and the first since the Huskers left the Big 12 for the Big Ten in 2011. (Never mind that when Nebraska joined, it gave the Big Ten 12 teams.)
Smith's triumph was also the latest in an impressive string of Division I college victories, seven in all, by golfers either from Minnesota or with Minnesota connections. It started with Smith's victory in New Orleans at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Since then, Drake's Taylor Ledwein (who was 2020 MGA Women's co-Player of the Year along with Smith) has won twice, at the Diane Daugherty Invitational and Murray State Jan Weaver Invitational; the Gophers' Angus Flanagan has also won twice, at the Boilermaker Invitational and Git R Done Husker Invitational; and Florida Gulf Coast's Van Holmgren won the Atlantic Sun (ASUN) Conference championship last week.
Like Smith, Ledwein, a senior from New Prague, and Holmgren, a senior from Wayzata, are former Minnesota state high school champions. Flanagan is a senior from Woking, England. He will defend his Big Ten individual championship -- he won the title in 2019, and last year's conference tournament was cancelled because of the Covid 19 pandemic -- next weekend at Crooked Stick GC in Carmel, Ind.
WOMEN'S COLLEGE GOLF
Big Ten Championships
At TPC River's Bend
Par 72, 6,300 yards
1. Michigan State 286-281-286--853
T2. Nebraska 293-284-281--858
T2. Michigan 290-284-284--858
T2. Maryland 287-280-291--858
5. Northwestern 291-286-290--867
6. Penn State 297-292-292--881
7. Purdue 296-291-299--885
8. Wisconsin 310-282-299--891
9. Illinois 299-299-297--895
10. Iowa 297-296-304--897
11. Minnesota 305-290-306--901
12. Rutgers 298-302-307--907
13. Indiana 320-301-297--918
1. Kate Smith, Nebraska 72-71-64--207
2. Irene Kim, Northwestern 73-70-67--210
T3. Valery Plata, Michigan State 75-68-68--211
T3. Ashley Lau, Michigan 71-70-70--211
5. Xiaolin Tian, Maryland 72-69-71--212
T6. Laura Van Respaille, Maryland 70-69-74--213
T6. Sarah Wills, Penn State 75-67-71--213
8. Paz Marfa, Michigan State 72-72-70--214
T9. Monet Chun, Michigan 71-72-72--215
T9. Kelly Sim, Northwestern 73-71-71--215
T24. Grace Curran, Minnesota 76-72-74--222
T41. Grace Kellar, Minnesota 76-73-77--226
T48. Annabelle Ackroyd, Minnesota 75-76-77--228
T48. Emma Carpenter, Minnesota 78-74-81--233
73. Jessica Lee, Minnesota 79-80-81--240