After a slow start to the spring season, it looked like the Blue Devils might fade out of contention and into the depths of ACC oblivion.
But now, it seems they are on their way to climbing out of that early hole.
Despite a pair of mediocre finishes in its first two tournaments of the spring, No. 24 Duke has started to play more consistent golf heading into the ACC championship in search of its first title since 2013. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils have stepped up their game as of late—finishing among the top three in two of their last three tournaments—but will have to grapple with four other ranked teams this weekend, including No. 9 Wake Forest, a team that boasts the nation's No. 5 golfer in junior Will Zalatoris.
The championship will be played Friday through Sunday at Musgrove Mill Golf Club in Clinton, S.C., instead of its traditional home at Old North State Club in New London, N.C., due to North Carolina's House Bill 2.
Duke hopes that the new location will not upset its mojo after a third-place
Although some consistent contributors struggled, senior Matt Oshrine rebounded after missing a start with back issues, finishing tied for seventh at 4-under-par. It was his second top-10 performance of the season after a tie for ninth at the Grand Canyon Invitational in March.
But if the Blue Devils want to capture the eighth ACC championship in program history, they will need stronger play from their stars, freshman Chandler Eaton and senior Alexander Matlari. Despite sitting at the top of Duke’s scoring charts, the duo both finished 4-over-par en route to a
Matlari had entered last week's tournament hot, shooting a combined 14-under-par in his last three events—all top-15 finishes—yet he stumbled to begin the event with three bogeys and a
But after the first seven holes, Matlari carded just four bogeys in the final 47 holes. It was not enough for the senior to push his way toward the top of the leaderboard, but the showing could bode well for him moving forward.
On the other hand, Eaton’s slump has been more prolonged. The Alpharetta, Ga., native has not cracked the top 20 in any event since the Lamkin Grips San Diego Classic March
The rest of Duke’s lineup, however, has been surging at the right time.
Alex Smalley, the team's No. 3 golfer, shot three even-par rounds last week to finish tied for 21st, and Jake Shuman, who had finished a combined 24-over-par in four starts this spring, also stepped his game up. The Needham, Mass., native tied for 10
The tree-lined course at Musgrove Mill—a par-72, 6,951-yard track—will test the Blue Devils’ depth, not necessarily with length, but with precision. That could play well for Duke, which has often successfully recovered well from off-line shots, ranking second in the nation in greens in regulation despite ranking near the bottom in fairways hit.
Another factor the Blue Devils will have to grapple with is a much deeper field than in recent weeks. Some of their recent success has come from the lack of quality opponents—they faced a combined three ranked teams in the past three weeks and finished an average of almost 16 strokes behind each of them.
Zalatoris and the Demon Deacons will not be the only tough test for Duke—No. 2 seed Clemson just bested Duke by 15 strokes, finishing second in the Wolfpack Spring Open thanks to a second-round 62 from William Nottingham to distance itself from the pack.
No. 3 seed Virginia also boasts two top-50 individual golfers in Jimmy Stanger and Derek Bard. And even No. 8 seed N.C. State just dominated Duke head-to-head, winning the Wolfpack Spring Open and finishing 28 strokes ahead of the third-place Blue Devils.
Head coach Jamie Green's team will look to build momentum this weekend for NCAA regionals May 15 to May 17.