Wake Forest beats USC to win 2023 NCAA Women’s Golf Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Emilia Migliaccio thought her college golf playing days were over.

She played four years for the Wake Forest women’s team but earned her bachelor’s and had entered a two-year graduate program. She remained around the team and coach Kim Lewellen often.

One day, Migliaccio went to her coach and told her about a dream she had. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Migliaccio still had a year of eligibility she could use. 

That dream? To play college golf again. 

She told Lewellen, who remembers a different version of the story. Migliaccio was a teacher’s assistant, but Lewellen said she knew Migliaccio didn’t love it. She saw a moment of weakness in her player.

“I’ve got a spot for you if you want it.”

Migliaccio accepted. And now, she’s a national champion.

Wake Forest captured its first women’s golf national title in school history Wednesday at Grayhawk Golf Club, and Migliaccio put the first point on the board against USC. The Demon Deacons won 3-1 and dominated from the first hole. 

“I was craving the feeling to be nervous again on the first tee,” Migliaccio said. “That’s why I play college golf. That’s why I love it. That’s why I’m not turning professional because I realized this is what I love to do.”

Migliaccio, who get married in a month, has a centerpiece for her wedding table, something teammate Rachel Kuehn has planned for some time.

Migliaccio was in the first match off Wednesday afternoon, and she took a 1 up lead after the first hole and never turned back, beating Cindy Kou 4 and 2. 

During Wake Forest’s first tournament this season at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, Lewellen said Migliaccio was like an extra coach on the course. However, she wasn’t the only experienced Demon Deacon on the roster.

There were also seniors Lauren Walsh and Kuehn, who earned the other two points to clinch the championship. Kuehn, in a star-powered matchup against USC’s Amari Avery, won 6 and 4. Walsh captured the title on the 16th green, beating Brianna Navarrosa with a 3-and-2 victory. 

“These three have played at extremely high levels,” Lewellen said. “They’ve played on Curtis Cups, they’ve played on Palmer Cups, they’ve played in (U.S. Women’s) Opens, they’ve played in U.S. Ams. 

“They’ve played at extremely high levels and extreme pressure and turned it into a positive. That’s what made this team so special.”

There was also maturity in the team. Wake Forest has had disappointing finishes the last couple years at Grayhawk. Last year, it didn’t make the 15-team cut after Sunday’s third round of stroke play. In 2019 at Blessings Golf Club, Lewellen and Migliaccio came up short in the championship match.

The Demon Deacons overhauled their schedule. They made an effort to get more familiar with playing desert golf. The elevation and temperature and conditions. They changed how they practiced. They changed their mindset. 

“We tailored our practices not to the next tournament but tailored them to what do we need to do to win the national championship,” Kuehn said. “To come back and get some revenge on this golf course and on the field was really nice.”

USC freshman Catherine Park, who finished runner-up in the individual competition, earned the Trojans’ lone point, a 3 and 1 win against Carolina Lopez-Chacarra.

However, that was the lone shining moment for USC. 

Not only did Migliaccio win her first hole, so did Walsh and Kuehn. By the seventh hole, Walsh was 5 up. At the turn, Kuehn was 3 up. Migliaccio birdied the 14th and 15th holes to take a commanding 3 up lead with three to play.

Migliaccio gave credit after the match to Mimi Rhodes, a junior who was pivotal to Wake forest’s success during the grueling six days in the desert. Rhodes was 2 up with two to play and a birdie putt on the 17th green when Walsh clinched the title on the 16th green. 

“I’m just so proud of her,” Migliaccio said of Rhodes. 

Wake Forest changed its mindset coming into the season. It was championship or bust. The Demon Deacons changed how they prepared, practiced and played. And it paid off. 

“The past two years, everything happens for a reason,” Kuehn said. “And if it took the last two years to get us where we are today, it was all worth it.”