In golf, a fraction of a centimeter can spell the difference between success and failure. On Saturday, UCLA was four strokes from missing the NCAA championship.
Entering the final day of competition clinging to the eighth and final qualifying spot, the Bruins needed an inspired performance to ensure they would advance to the championship round. In a time of such intense pressure, senior Tiffany Lua gave them one.
“We really needed her to play well, and she came through,” said coach Carrie Forsyth, “(Tiffany) was absolutely clutch for us here today.”
Lua hit five birdies in the decisive third round, allowing the Bruins to edge a slew of competitors at the NCAA East Regional tournament in Auburn, Ala. The seventh-place finish ensured that the team would punch its ticket to the Championship, played next week in Athens, Ga.
Lua’s day three performance was successful in large part because of her excellent putting, something she worked to improve after putting mistakes caused her to struggle at the Pac-12 tournament two weeks ago.
The hard work paid off. Opening the key final round at +3, Lua began to make her putts. And as the putts continued to drop, so did her score – she finished the round at -3. After so much practice and work trying to improve her putting,
“It was nice to see my putter come out of hibernation,” Lua said. “After so much practice, it was finally great to see something positive.”
Her excellent performance was reminiscent of her play in February and March, when Lua, at the top of her game, was a driving force behind the Bruins’ resurgence following her return from injury. She was a central factor behind victory in Auburn, something Lua’s teammates were quick to appreciate.
“In team golf, somebody who can shoot (under par) really helps out the team, and (Lua’s performance) was exactly what we needed,” said sophomore Erynne Lee. “It definitely helped out a lot.”
Lua will need to play at that level, if not better, if the Bruins are to succeed in the NCAAs. In Athens, UCLA will face off against the 23 best teams in college golf, a host of talented squads headlined by Alabama, Duke and crosstown rival USC, the top three teams in the nation. Forsyth said the team will need to be at its best, putting and chipping efficiently, as well as maintaining a consistently high level of play.
According to Lua, consistency will perhaps be the most crucial factor determining the team’s success. A common statement of hers throughout the season has been that every player must be playing well at the same time for the Bruins to have a legitimate shot at the title. Recently, the team has shown flashes of potential, with players putting on strong individual showings – but these individual efforts have not happened all at once, such as Lee’s -6 performance in UCLA’s eighth-place finish at the PING/ASU Invitational in April.
“We have the ability to play with (the big teams),” Lua said. “But so far, we just haven’t been able to time everything well and peak at the same time.”
As Forsyth said, UCLA has already defeated many of the teams it will face next week. The team’s ability to play consistent, error-free golf will determine whether the Bruins can beat them again when it matters most.