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The Lowdown on the Lowest Round Ever

Freshman golfer's 61 sets new mark for a female collegian.

Don Feria/Stanfordphoto.com

By Elizabeth Clair

Mariah Stackhouse, ’16, meticulously inscribes the initials M and D in green ink onto every golf ball she plays in competition.

“The M is for Mariah,” she says. “But the D is for David.” As in David and Goliath.

On February 17, the 5-foot-2 freshman played like a giant, shooting a 10-under-par 61 to set a course and NCAA women’s record during the Peg Barnard Invitational at the Stanford Golf Course. Even more remarkably, Stackhouse completed the front nine holes in 9-under 26, carding two eagles and five birdies.

“To be a great athlete and a great golfer you must have a quiet self confidence, be humble and keep your ego in check,” says women’s golf head coach Anne Walker. “Mariah has those characteristics. To see all of her hard work come together on our home course was so amazing.”

Since her first tournament at the age of 6, the Riverdale, Ga., native has made a history of outsized performances. Stackhouse won the Georgia high school championship three times, is a former Georgia amateur champion, and in 2011 qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open.

Stanford invited Stackhouse to recount her performance hole by hole.

(Course illustrations courtesy Stanford Athletics.)

Hole 1

Par 5 (eagle)

A massive drive put Stackhouse in position to reach the green in two shots, which she did, landing a 5-wood 11 feet from the pin. “It was a quick putt. I barely tapped it, and it turned and fell right into the cup. The crowd started screaming. It’s really kind of nice to start out with an eagle.”


 

Hole 2

Par 4 (birdie)

After a good drive, Stackhouse hit a 9-iron to the green, 20 feet from the pin.

“I practiced that same putt earlier in the morning. It was straight uphill slightly breaking to the left at the end. I hit it very confidently. If I’d missed, it would’ve gone way past the hole, but it fell right into the center of the cup.”


 

Hole 3

Par 3 (par)

An uneventful drive and two putts left Stackhouse 3-under after three holes.


 

Hole 4

Par 3 (birdie)

“I hit a 7-iron off the tee. It wasn’t a great shot, but I was 18 feet from the pin. I knew I didn’t hit that putt hard enough to get to the hole. So I started to walk up to finish but then the ball rolled again, right into the hole. I’d never been 4 under after four holes!”


 

Hole 5

Par 4 (birdie)

“5 and 6 consecutively are the most difficult on the golf course. It’s so easy to make mistakes. But I hit a very good drive and an 8-iron to eight feet.” She made the putt for her third birdie of the day.


 

Hole 6

Par 4 (par)

“The 6th hole used to be my hardest tee shot. You can be in the middle of the fairway and your troubles are still not over. I pulled my 6-iron into the green and ended up in the bunker to the left. I flew it out of the bunker and saved par from four feet.”


 

Hole 7

Par 5 (eagle)

“I wanted to give myself an opportunity to go for the green in two. I wanted to hug the left side and draw it a bit but I hooked my ball into the trees.” Even the trees bowed to Stackhouse on this day. The tee shot was hit so solidly it made it through the trees and landed in the fairway on the other side, 198 yards from the pin.  Stackhouse landed her 7-wood approach shot perfectly between two bunkers and it rolled onto the green. “I had 30 feet for eagle. I honestly wasn’t expecting to make it. But I did know that I was making a lot of putts that day, so I set up, read the putt, and it just went in.” Stackhouse high-fived Coach Walker and looked up to see her mother screaming from the crowd.


 

Hole 8

Par 3 (birdie)

Stackhouse hit an 8-iron to within 9 feet and again dropped the putt for a birdie.


 

Hole 9

Par 4 (birdie)

“I hit a good drive on 9, but I hit my second shot way too far on the green. I had a downhill breaking right swinger. I really just wanted to lag it, get it close to the hole. I putted it and it began turning, and turning, and turning, and then it just fell into the hole.” By now, as word spread about her extraordinary round, a gallery of a couple of hundred people had gathered to watch. 

As she walked toward the 10th tee, having carded a 9-under-par 26, Stackhouse recalls reflecting upon her historic front nine. “My dad has always prepared me for a round like this. He told me, ‘Don’t get too excited when you are playing well and don’t get upset when you aren’t playing well.’ Every time I’d make a birdie, I’d do my best to keep calm, and not get too excited.”


 

Hole 10

Par 4 (par)

A solid drive, a good approach shot and two putts resulted in a par on the long, uphill 10th hole.


 

Hole 11

Par 4 (par)

The story was much the same as on 10—a safe drive, on the green with a second shot, two putts.


 

Hole 12

Par 5 (birdie)

Many players consider this the most interesting hole on the course, if not necessarily the hardest. A large oak tree in the middle of the fairway adds a peculiar twist. Stackhouse hit driver, then 5-wood and was just off the green to the right. She chipped to within two feet of the hole and dropped the short putt for a birdie. She was now 10 under par through 12 holes.


 

Hole 13

Par 4 (bogey)

An average drive and a good approach shot put her on the green in two strokes. Then, a hiccup. “I had a 30-foot putt, but it was the first putt of the day that I didn’t stroke confidently.” She left it four feet short, then missed the next putt, too, and tapped in for a bogey, her first of the day. “It was also the first moment when I realized how well I was doing, and how I might’ve just messed up something amazing.”


 

Hole 14

Par 3 (bogey)

Stackhouse pulled her tee shot left of the green, chipped on, and missed her par putt. Back-to-back bogeys now made the prospect of a sub-60 round improbable. “I still wasn’t too upset. How silly would it have been for me to be upset at 8 under par? But I did decide that I wouldn’t have any more bogeys.”


 

Hole 15

Par 4 (par)

“The last four holes are my favorite four on the course,” says Stackhouse. “I hit a good tee shot on 15 and a pitching wedge onto the green. A solid two-putt got me off the bogey train.”


 

Hole 16

Par 5 (birdie)

Her drive was good, but her second shot wound up in the rough below the green. “I was actually so far below the green that I could hit a flop shot.” She dropped it eight feet from the hole and sank the putt as the gallery roared. “I’m very good at shutting out the noise. Even when my mom is screaming and my coaches are super excited, I let them enjoy it and stay inside myself.”


 

Hole 17

Par 3 (birdie)

Stackhouse hit a 7-iron onto the green but about 10 feet past the cup, leaving her a tricky downhill putt for birdie. But she didn’t hold back. “She hit it so fast and so hard that if it hadn’t hit the hole, it would’ve been 15 feet below the hole,” Coach Walker says. But it did hit the hole, and the crowd erupted in a roar.


 

Hole 18

Par 4 (par)

As Stackhouse teed up her ball for the signature finishing hole—an elevated tee with long views all the way to San Francisco—she was a birdie away from a round of 60, a feat accomplished only a handful of times on the pro tour, and never by a female collegian. “I was so nervous for her,” says Walker. “She was 10 under par, standing on the 18th tee, a very difficult hole and surrounded by a huge crowd.”

Stackhouse responded with what she called “the biggest drive of my life,” a mere 85 yards from the green. She used a wedge to pitch the ball onto the green. It was a makeable putt but Stackhouse didn’t believe what her eyes were telling her. “I saw that it was completely straight. I just kept telling myself, ‘there’s no way it’s a straight putt.’ So I convinced myself to believe that it had a break. Unfortunately, it was straight and I missed it.”

She did, however, make the 2-foot putt for her par, and was mobbed by her team, family, and friends.

The final tally: a score of 61, 10 under par, the lowest ever recorded by a woman at Stanford Golf Course, which opened in 1930, and a new women’s NCAA record. “I’ve had rounds with six or seven birdies. But you never know when it is all going to come together in one round, you never know when you are going to have magic golf.

While Stackhouse believes that she plays no differently today than before her NCAA-record setting round, she does have one new addition to her game: the club head cover in the shape of a tree. “I just got it. You have to shoot in the 60s in competition to earn your Tree.”


Elizabeth Clair, ’11, MA ’12, is a writer and digital communication strategist in Silicon Valley.

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