Nothing drives Maria Fassi of Mexico like failure.
Fassi was the Annika Award last year as the best player in women’s golf as a junior at Arkansas, only to play some of her worst golf in the NCAA championships. She returned for her senior season, motivated to atone for the way last year ended, especially with the NCAAs at Blessings Golf Club, the home course of the Razorbacks.
Fassi, with her high energy and a powerful swing, delivered a bogey-free round of 68 to win the NCAA individual title by four shots. She is the first woman from Arkansas to win the NCAA title since Stacy Lewis in 2007.
“After a pretty perfect year that my junior year was … and then heading to nationals and playing pretty bad golf was not fun,” Fassi told Golf Channel. “It was a feeling that I never wanted to feel again. I think I just grew from that. I don’t like feeling that way, I don’t like finishing second. I think those are things that fuel me. They make me wake up early, go work out and stay here to dark practicing. I think those are the things that have helped me this year.”
Arkansas advanced to the eight-team portion of match play for the first time.
Last year wasn’t the only failure motivating Fassi.
She had plenty of national media attention at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, where the final round at Augusta National became a duel with one of her best friends, 2018 NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest.
They were tied until Kupcho hit it close on the par-3 16th for birdie and Fassi’s tee shot stayed on the top shelf, leading to a three-putt bogey.
“I think not winning at Augusta was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” Fassi said. “I can say that now that I have reflected. I know that not winning was probably what needed to happen because I knew I was going to learn a lot more from coming in second versus pulling that one off. Of course I hate losing, but coming here I knew what I was going to be put up against.”
The next step for Fassi is to play for pay.
She played the LPGA Q Series late last year and earned a card, and then deferred her LPGA membership until after the college season. Fassi makes her pro debut next week in the U.S. Women’s Open, and she is likely to have plenty of attention because of how hard she hits the ball.
“I think coming back was the best decision I ever made, and it paid off,” she said.
Any chance Jordan Spieth had of winning the career Grand Slam at the PGA Championship ended on Saturday when he shot 72, falling nine shots behind. Sunday turned out to be important for other reasons.
Spieth closed with a 71, but it was enough to finish in a three-way tie for third, six shots behind Brooks Koepka.
It was enough to put Spieth inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup for the first time all year. He played twice in the fall, in Las Vegas and Mexico, and earned a whopping total of six FedEx Cup points. His finish at Bethpage Black moved him up 59 spots to No. 91.
It also stopped his slide in the world ranking, moving up to No. 30. That’s far removed from where he was at this time a year ago — No. 3 in the world — but it’s a start.
“My score in majors typically reflects the state of my game at that time, and I’ve been speaking to how it’s been closer and better than maybe results would show,” Spieth said. “I knew coming into the week that it was unlikely on this golf course that I was going to have a chance to win, and that’s a humbling feeling for me, but I knew that if I played the course the right way, had the right mentality, kept putting the way I’ve been putting, that I would be in it.”
He led the field at Bethpage Black in the key putting statistic, gaining 10.6 strokes against the field. It was the best putting performance of his PGA Tour career according to the “strokes gained” metric.
Spieth is at Colonial and the Memorial the next two weeks before a week off ahead of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
TOP COLLEGE PLAYER
U.S. Amateur champion Viktor Hovland of Norway was selected for the Ben Hogan Award as the national’s top college golfer.
Hovland is the fourth player from Oklahoma State to win since the award moved to Colonial. The others were Hunter Mahan (2003), Rickie Fowler (2008) and Peter Uihlein (2011), another U.S. Amateur champion.
It also makes it three times in five years that the award went to a European, following Jon Rahm winning in 2015 and 2016.
Hovland is the No. 1 player in the world amateur ranking.
Along with winning the U.S. Amateur, Hovland was runner-up at the European Amateur, reached the round of 16 at the British Amateur and tied for eighth at the World Amateur Team Championship. In April, he was low amateur at the Masters.
This year, he won three times at Oklahoma State and was never outside the top 12 in all eight of his tournaments.
Hovland won the award over teammate Matt Wolff and Cal senior Collin Morikawa.
One way the USGA is listening to PGA Tour players is in U.S. Open qualifying. The 36-hole sectionals typically take place 10 days before the U.S. Open — after the Memorial, the week of the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tennessee.
But with a compact schedule and so many other moving parts — the Canadian Open is the week of the qualifier with Memphis moving after the British Open — the first of 10 qualifiers was held Monday in the Dallas area.
It worked out beautifully for Brendon Todd.
“That’s why I came here. The date was good. It doesn’t interfere with the Canadian Open,” Todd said.
He made it work by sharing medalist honors with Nick Taylor. They were among the 10 players who earned spots at Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open on June 13-16.
“I’m pumped,” Todd said. “This was on my list for a year to try to qualify for Pebble. It’s probably my favorite golf course in the world.”
Todd won the Byron Nelson for his lone PGA Tour victory in 2014, but his game began to slide when his two-year exemption ran out. In the last three years, Todd has missed the cut 39 times in 44 starts. He has made four out of six cuts this season as his game is slowly turning around.
Justin Thomas appears ready to go after a right wrist injury kept him out of the PGA Championship. Thomas has committed to play next week at the Memorial. … Jay Haas, Bernhard Langer and Loren Roberts are the only players at the Senior PGA Championship this week to have played a Ryder Cup, PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship all at Oak Hill. … The top six LPGA Tour players in the Vare Trophy standings have a scoring average below 70. Jin Young Ko leads at 69.0. … Patrick Reed has gone eight straight tournaments without a top-20 finish.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Seve Ballesteros are the only players to win four majors before turning 30 in the last 50 years.
“I can’t imagine what a Ryder Cup will be like around here. I think it would be intimidating, no doubt.” — Paul Casey on the Ryder Cup coming to Bethpage Black in 2024.