The Blue Devils have eight more months to prepare for this year’s national championship, but that did not stop Leona Maguire and company from arriving at The Woodlands, Texas, in peak form, steamrolling the competition and delivering a performance for the record books.
Behind the lowest 18, 36 and 54-hole scores in team history, No. 7 Duke handily captured the Jim West Challenge at The Fazio Course at Carlton Woods, carding a three-round total of 33-under-par and beating the next best team—No. 24 Oklahoma—by a whopping 22 strokes. The performance was spearheaded by Maguire, who captured the individual title in her senior-year debut thanks to three rounds in the 60’s, highlighted by a bogey-free 63 Monday afternoon that tied for the second-lowest score ever carded by a Blue Devil.
The Cavan, Ireland, native also broke the team’s 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records to earn her eighth individual collegiate title.
“All I really expected was a great effort and that didn’t surprise me, but breaking the records certainly did,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “We’ve never been here before, so none of us have seen this golf course, so you don’t know what you’re capable of on a golf course when you’ve never seen it and never played it.”
This season already carries extremely high expectations for a Duke team that features the No. 1 amateur in the world in Maguire, a former individual national champion in Carta, five returning players and an impressive recruiting class talented enough to contribute immediately.
The Blue Devils certainly lived up to those expectations this week, showing little mercy on the 13-team field that included four other ranked opponents. No other squad ever had a chance of catching up to Duke, which had a six-stroke lead after Monday’s opening round that grew to 14 by day’s end.
The relatively short length of the course—which measured 6,010 yards, compared to last season’s average course length of 6,261 yards—was certainly a factor that contributed to low scoring, Brooks said. But he emphasized that his team adapted to the easy conditions to take advantage of scoring opportunities and ultimately separate itself from the field, a trait exemplified by Maguire in particular.
“It’s one thing to see opportunity. It’s another thing to take advantage of the opportunities throughout this tournament, and they did that this week,” Brooks said. “[Maguire] epitomizes the ability to seize opportunity…. That isn’t a given, that’s a great skill to be able to have. That’s the kind of skill that you see in the best players of the world. When a door opens, they’re able to walk through it.”
In addition to Maguire’s historic victory, a newcomer to Durham made some history of her own. Freshman Jaravee Boonchant opened the tournament—which featured 36 holes Monday and 18 holes Tuesday—by notching five birdies in her first 12 holes en route to a 66, tying a Duke record for the lowest round in a collegiate debut.
The Bangkok native went on to turn in rounds of 71 and 68 and tie for sixth. Brooks found the result particularly impressive given Boonchant’s lack of team experience at IMG Academy in Florida, where she attended high school.
“When you’ve got the team in your mind, you’re playing hard for them. It’s a little bit different feeling, a little bit different pressure. She didn’t really come from any kind of a team experience,” Brooks said. “I think it’s wonderful that she was able to play that well knowing that she was playing for her team.”
Ana Belac posted the second-lowest score for Brooks’ squad. The sophomore hit 32 of 36 greens in regulation Monday and combined that impressive ball-striking with a solid day on the greens to end the day at 6-under-par. Her momentum spilled into Tuesday, as Belac was the only Duke player without a bogey and leveraged three birdies to shoot a 68 on the par-71 track.
The sophomore has shown marked improvement from a year ago, when she struggled during two fall stroke-play events—finishing no better than a tie for 47th—before hitting her stride last spring. Brooks attributed her improvement to extra work in the gym.
“She has a better golf swing now than when she came,” Brooks said. “She’s a better ball striker now, and that is due to physical changes.”
Falling just outside the top 10 was junior Virginia Elena Carta, who finished in a tie for 12th at 3-under-par. The Udine, Italy, native posted 11 birdies in the event, but also bogeyed eight holes to finish with rounds of 69, 70 and 71.
Lisa Maguire also competed in the event—shooting 16-over-par—though none of her rounds counted toward the team total.
“I couldn't have asked for a better start to the season,” Leona Maguire told GoDuke.com. “I'm really proud of my performance and everybody on the team. We all stepped up and I'm excited for the season ahead of us.”