McCauley's Final-Round 65 Gets Her into NCAA Championships

May 8, 2024 | 8 min.
By Michael R Fermoyle

AUBURN, Ala. -- What Bella McCauley did on Wednesday in the final round of the NCAA Women's Division I Auburn Regional was the college golf equivalent of what Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did in the 2017 Super Bowl, when they came back from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.

The college golf coaches, when they get together, aren't the most enlightened group of people in the world, and their format for the NCAA regional qualifying tournaments is seriously flawed -- and stacked against anyone trying to advance as an individual. Suffice to say that the field at the NCAA Championships, which will be played May 17-22 at the Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif., will be made up of 150 players from 30 teams -- and only six individuals. There  will be one lone individual qualifier from each region.

It is possible, nonsensically unfair as it might sound, to finish second as an individual in a regional tournament -- and not advance.  

McCauley beat the odds last year, when she was a freshman at the University of Minnesota, and played her way into the NCAA tournament as an individual by finishing sixth in the East Lansing Regional. She had to play really well to do that, and she also had to get a little bit lucky. All five of the players who finished ahead of her in the individual standings were on advancing teams. Had one of those five been on a team that didn't  advance, McCauley's season would have been over. 

Once again this year, McCauley was on her own, and she got off the a bad start Monday in the first round at Auburn University Club, making a double bogey on the par-5 16th hole and a bogey on the par-3 17th and ending the first day with a 5-over-par 77, and a tie for 34th place. It got worse before it got better. On Tuesday, she birdied her first hole (No. 10), but she doubled the fifth (No. 14). So, 23 holes into the 54-hole tournament, she was 6 over.

Having played the par 5s in 2 over during the first round, she started her comeback in the second with a birdie at the 496-yard 16th. But she bogeyed the par-5 third hole, and after birdying the par-3 fifth, she bogeyed the other par 3 on the front nine, the 177-yard eighth. She ended up with a 72, and a 36-hole total of 149. So with one round to go, she was tied for 18th, and at that point, there were five players ahead of her that were on teams not in the top five.

McCauley was first among the six players in the region competing as individuals only. Nevertheless, it looked as though would need something like a 65 or a 66 on Wednesday to make it back to the NCAA Championships -- and no one had shot anything lower than 69 in the first two days. 

Amazingly, McCauley did shoot a 65 on Wednesday -- the best score of the tournament by four strokes. It gave her a 54-hole total of 214, and a tie for second place. That was good enough to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. The only player to finish ahead of her in the regional was Auburn's rising star, freshman Anna Davis, who shot 69 for the second day in a row, and was the medalist by three strokes at 211. 

Her Tiger teammate Megan Schofill, a fifth-year senior who won the U.S. Women's Amateur last summer, was one of the two players who tied McCauley for second. Louise Rydqvist of South Carolina was the other. Schofill closed with a 73. With Davis and Schofill leading the way, Auburn finished first in the team standings with a three-day aggregate of 874. Georgia made a run at the Tigers on Wednesday, with the only single-day under-par team score of the week, a 283 (5 under), and that got the Ducks within five of Auburn, at 878. Auburn had been 14 ahead of second-place Houston at the start of the day.

North Carolina and South Carolina both shot 293, which was the second-best team score of the final day. North Carolina finished third at 885, and South Carolina tied for fourth at 891, thanks largely to Rydqvist, a junior from Sweden who closed with a 71 on her way to 214 and the second-place tie with McCauley and Schofill. The Gamecocks are coached by Kalen Anderson, the former Minnesota Girls Junior champion and Duke All-American. (She played on an NCAA championship team at Duke and was the assistant coach for another of Duke's NCAA championship teams.) South Carolina came into the regional ranked No. 2 nationally, but the Gamecocks needed that 293 on Wedneaday just to crack the top five, moving up from seventh place into a tie with Tulsa for fourth -- and fifth -- at 891. Georgia and Houston both finished one shot out of the top five, tied for sixth at 892. Georgia got there with a valedictory 296.

Houston was tied for second after two days, but a 301 on Day 3 doomed the Cougars' chances of going to Carlsbad. The case of Houston sophomore Moa Svendenskiold is an example of how unfair the NCAA's regional format is. Going into the final round, her team was in second place, and she was first in the individual standings at 72-69--141 (eight strokes ahead of McCauley). On Wednesday, she shot 74, which wasn't that bad a score on a tough course, but it dropped her into a tie for fifth at 215, one behind McCauley. So her team fell out of the top five, and she finished second to McCauley in the individuals-only category, and that meant she wouldn't advance. 

If you look at the way she played, she deserves to go to Carlsbad, but she won't get the chance -- further evidence of what's wrong with college golf's post-season format.   

As for McCauley's spectacular final-day rally, the former Minnesota state high school champion from Inver Grove Heights parred the first three holes, then birdied the 375-yard, par-4 fourth and the 140-yard, par-3 fifth. She made the first of her three birdies on the par 5s at the 538-yard seventh and made the turn in 3-under 33. She added birdies at the par-4 10th, the par-5 13th, the par-5 16th, and she capped off her day with a birdie at the 348-yard, par-4 18th. 

That last birdie at the 18th mattered. It kept her out of a tie with Svendenskiold. Had McCauley and Svendenskiold tied, there would have been a playoff for the one individuals-only qualifying spot available at Auburn.

This was not, however, the only bigtime comeback that McCauley has produced this season. In the Big Ten Conference Championships last month, she shot a final-round 64 (8 under) at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, Md., and that got her into a three-way tie for the individual title.  

McCauley is currently No. 73 in the Women's NCAA DI Rankings, but she should move up as a result of her efforts at Auburn. She beat 13 players who were ranked ahead of her, includiing No. 6 Kiara Romero of Oregon (T10 -- 218), No. 14 Anna Morgan of Furman (T21 -- 225), No. 19 Hannah Darling of South Carolina (solo 29th -- 228) and No. 21 Monet Chun of Michigan (T30 -- 229). Chun was one of the two players McCauley tied for first at Bulle Rock in the Big Ten tournament.     

NCAA Women's DI Auburn Regional

At Auburn University Club

Par 72, 6,480 yards

Auburn, Ala. 

Final results (the top five teams qualify for the NCAA Women's Championships, May 17-22 at Omni La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, Calif. 

1 Auburn                      290-287-297--874

2. Oregon                     298-297-283--878

3. North Carolina          300-292-293--885

T4. South Carolina        293-305-293--891

T4. Tulsa                       298-298-295--891

T6. Houston                   298-293-301--892

T6. Georgia                    306-290-296--892

8. Miami                          305-306-304--915

9. Michigan                    311-304-309--924

10. East Tenn. State      308-310-314--932

11. Kennesaw State       317-317-302--936

12. Albany                       321-325-333--975

Individuals (the top individual not on an advancing team also qualifies for the NCAA Championships)

1. Anna Davis, Auburn                    73-69-69--211

T2. Bella McCauley, Minnesota    77-72-65--214* (individual qualifier) 

T2. Megan Schofill, Auburn             69-73-72--214

T2. Louise Rydqvist, So. Carolina   69-74-71--214

T5. Moa Svendenskiold, Houston    72-69-74--215  

T5. Kayla Smith, North Carolina       72-72-71--215

T7. Sara Byrne, Miami                      74-71-72--217

T7. Megan Streicher, No. Carolina    71-74-72--217

T7. Grace Kilcrease, Tulsa                 73-73-71--217

T10. Kiara Romero, Oregon               73-74-71--218

T10. Ting-Hsuan Huang, Oregon        73-75-70--218


Michael R Fermoyle

Mike Fermoyle’s amateur golf career features state titles in five different decades, beginning with the State Public Links (1969), three State Amateurs (1970, 1973 and 1980), and four State Four-Ball championships (1972, 1985, 1993 and 2001). Fermoyle was medalist at the Pine to Palm in 1971, won the Resorters in 1972, made the cut at the State Amateur 18 consecutive years (1969 to 1986), the last being 2000, and amassed 13 top-ten finishes. Fermoyle also made it to the semi-final matches at the MGA’s annual match play championship, the Players’, in 1982 and 1987.

Fermoyle enjoyed a career as a sportswriter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch before retiring in 2006. Two years later he began a second career covering the golf beat exclusively for the MGA and its website,, where he ranks individual prep golfers and teams, provides coverage on local amateur and professional tournaments and keeps tabs on how Minnesotans are faring on the various professional tours.

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