Back nine play earns Duke women's golf NCAA title
TULSA, Okla.—After starting the day with a six-stroke lead, the Blue Devils found themselves trailing the No. 1 team in the country on the back nine with the NCAA Championship on the line.
They responded by coming together and making 13 birdies on their final nine holes to win their sixth national title—the most of any Duke athletic program.
The third-ranked Blue Devils finished with a four-day, 72-hole total of 10-over-par 1,130 after firing a six-under-par 274 in the final round Friday at Tulsa Country Club. After its charge on the front nine, No. 1 Southern California was unable to get its putts to fall when it needed down the stretch, coming up two strokes short.
The Trojans fired the best round of the Championship—10-under-par 270—but saw their multiple-stroke lead on the back nine vanish after each Duke player picked up strokes against its Southern California playing partner to cap a memorable week.
“[On the back nine, assistant] coach [Jeanne] Cho and I decided that we better start rallying the troops,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “We just tried to get some fist pumps going and tried to get everybody to turn it around, and everybody from Duke chimed in and turned it around. I’m very, very excited about what we just did.”
The Blue Devil seniors led the charge, playing some of the finest golf of their careers to go out on top.
Alejandra Cangrejo—who was in the fifth-to-last group of the day and the first Blue Devil to finish her round—initiated the swing in momentum by making three birdies in her final nine holes en route to a two-under-par round of 68.
The Colombian became aware that her team had lost the lead on the 11th hole after glancing at a scoreboard, and responded like a champion when her team needed her poise most.
“On 11, when I was looking at the board, they were actually changing the leader from Duke to [Southern California], so that was a shocker,” Cangrejo said. “After that, I just knew that we had to play our best and I kept on fighting and came up with three birdies. It’s really exciting.”
Cangrejo’s fellow senior Laetitia Beck followed suit, also noticing that Duke needed to make up ground when she played the 11th hole and going on a birdie streak of her own. The Israel native also made three birdies on the back nine to match Cangrejo’s round of 68.
Beck was so determined to fight for the title that she started warming up again after her round in case there had to be a two-team playoff in the event of a tie.
Freshman Sandy Choi epitomized the Blue Devils’ roller-coaster day. After making two birdies in her first three holes, Choi made a double-bogey on the sixth hole after hitting it in the water and made two more bogeys on the front nine. But she recovered quickly.
The San Diego native birdied three of the first four holes on the back nine, making her charge in sync with Beck and Cangrejo to erase Southern California’s lead and put Duke back in the driver’s seat for the title.
Choi did not play like a freshman in her first NCAA Championship, finishing tied for 23rd after a one-under-par 69 Friday. She also overcame plenty of adversity after a turbulent front nine and a short missed birdie putt on the par-five 16th hole with the outcome of the tournament still hanging in the balance.
“On the back nine, I told myself to keep calm and keep patient,” Choi said. “I made a really long putt on number 10 which was a confidence boost for me for the [rest of the round].”
In the final group, ACC Player of the Year Celine Boutier showcased nerves of steel to seal the Blue Devil victory. Playing alongside Southern California’s Doris Chen—who made two long birdie putts and was four-under-par after nine holes to spark the Trojan spurt—the sophomore regrouped after a bogey on her opening hole to contend for the individual title.
The Frenchwoman hit all but one green in regulation on the day and made four birdies, none of which were bigger than her birdie on the 16th hole that gave Duke a three-stroke advantage with only two groups left on the course. Boutier’s birdie putt also brought her within one of the individual lead after Chen had led by as many as four strokes earlier in the round.
Needing to sink a long birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff for the individual title, Boutier crushed her first putt well past the hole and ended up three-putting to lose to Chen by two strokes after the pair started the day tied for the lead.
Nonetheless, it was the fact that she had clinched an NCAA Championship for her team, not the fact that she had lost individually, that had Boutier in tears as she exited the scoring tent following her round.
“My game was getting better as the round was going on,” Boutier said. “I just managed to keep calm and focus on what I could do on the course. [Afterwards], I just realized that we had won the National Championship and just started crying. Everyone thought I was crying because of my three-putt, but I was really emotional because this is a very special team.”