Kate Smith shot a scorching 64 (-8) to tie her own record for the best individual round in school history and capture Nebraska’s first-ever Big Ten women’s golf individual title on Sunday. With Smith leading the charge, the Huskers earned a tie for second with No. 19 Maryland and No. 25 Michigan to post their best team finish at a conference championship since earning runner-up honors in the Big Eight in 1984.
Smith, a senior from Detroit Lakes, Minn., started the day four strokes back of individual leader Laura Van Respaillie from Maryland, but stormed to the top of the leader board by the time Smith made the turn, becoming the first Nebraska women’s golfer to win a conference title since first-team All-American Sarah Sasse in 2003. Sasse won the Big 12 Conference title with a four-over-par 220 in 2003. Rachelle Tacha, who won the Big Eight Conference title in 1996 with an 11-over-par 227, is the only other Husker women’s golfer to ever win a league individual crown.
Smith birdied No. 1 and No. 2, before making par on No. 3. She notched her third birdie of the day on No. 4, before pars on No. 5 and No. 6 set up a birdie on No. 7. Smith took the turn at 32 (-4) after pars on No. 8 and 9. After another par on 10, Smith knocked in her fifth birdie on No. 11. Pars on No. 12 and 13 then set up back-to-back birdies on No. 14 and 15 to move Smith to seven-under for the round.
After pars on No. 16 and 17, Smith sank her eighth birdie putt of the day on No. 18 to finish at 207 (-9) for the tournament – three strokes better than runner-up Irene Kim from Northwestern. Kim also played spectacular golf in the final round with a 67 (-5) after starting the day tied with Smith in eighth place. But not even Kim, the No. 22-ranked golfer in the nation, could keep pace with Smith’s torrid round on Sunday.
With Smith leading a strong final charge for the Huskers, Nebraska secured its best Big Ten Conference finish in history by tying for second, just five strokes back of the team champions from Michigan State. It was NU’s best conference finish taking second at the 1984 Big Eight Championships.
The Huskers posted their best team score at a conference tournament in school history with a three-round total of 858 (-6), including a seven-under-par 281 on Sunday.
While Smith’s record round stole the show on Sunday, Nebraska’s lineup also made history with four Big Red golfers finishing in the top 20 at a conference tournament for the first time since at least 1984.
Graduate transfer Alice Duan (Reno, Nev.), who entered the final round in a tie for third following her second-round 68 (-4), tied for 11th as Nebraska’s No. 2 finisher in the tournament. Duan’s tie for 11th is the third-best finish by a Husker golfer in Big Ten Tournament history, trailing on Smith’s title and a tie for third by Maddie Sheils in Nebraska’s first Big Ten Championship appearance in 2012. Duan managed a 75 on Sunday to finish the 54-hole event at even-par 216. An eagle putt by Michigan’s Monet Chun on No. 18 Sunday, knocked Duan out of the top 10.
Kirsten Baete (Beatrice, Neb.) played a major role in Nebraska’s season-best final-round 281 with her season-best 70 (-2). The junior was even through Sunday’s first 10 holes before making eagle on No. 11. She added a birdie on No. 13 to briefly go to three-under, before taking a bogey on 14. She closed the day with four straight pars to secure a tie for 16th place individually, which ranks as the fifth-best finish by a Husker women’s golfer in history at the Big Ten Championship.
Megan Whittaker (Elkhorn, Neb.) completed an outstanding week of golf by adding a tie for 18th individually while playing out of the No. 5 spot in Nebraska’s lineup. Whittaker notched Nebraska’s No. 4 score in the six-count-four format on Sunday with a 74 (+2) to finish the tournament with a career-best 219 (+3).
Freshman Michaela Vavrova (Bojnice, Slovakia) continued to play solid golf for the Big Red on Sunday, and came through with Nebraska’s No. 3 individual score of the round with a 73 (+1). Vavrova, who tied for 33rd individually at 224 (+8), carded two birdies (No. 4, No. 18), 13 pars and three bogeys on Sunday.