Sophomore Brinson Paolini did not rest on his laurels after posting a record-setting campaign during his first season as a Blue Devil.
The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year entered tournaments across the country over the last three months, playing events in Virginia, Illinois and Washington, just to name a few.
Paolini hopes the experience he gained during his busy summer will pay dividends when he returns to collegiate competition, as Duke will play a number of challenging tournaments this fall.
“Every time I go out there, I keep learning,” Paolini said. “I want to keep improving. Each day I want to be a little bit better than I was the day before.”
The Blue Devils return four of their top five players from last season and feature a mix of talented young golfers, veteran upperclassmen and promising newcomers.
Paolini anchors a stellar sophomore class that also includes Tim Gornik, Adam Sumrall and returning top-five scorer Julian Suri. Head coach Jamie Green said the group of second-year players gives his squad a level of depth Duke did not possess last year.
Paolini tied for the team lead in stroke average last season—his 72.3 mark was the lowest by a freshman in program history. Suri also showed he could be a consistent contributor—he placed in the top 20 in all four tournaments last fall and tied for second at the Wolfpack Intercollegiate in April.
As the most experienced Blue Devils left, senior Wes Roach and junior Spencer Anderson have a great deal of familiarity with some of the courses Duke will play this year. The pair will also need to fill the leadership void created by the graduation of Adam Long, who boasts the second-best career scoring average in school history. Green said Long led both vocally and by example, guiding Paolini and his then-freshmen teammates through their first year of collegiate golf.
“Losing Adam Long is definitely a hit,” Paolini said. “Adam was an amazing person and a great player, and he kind of took all of us [current sophomores] under his wing.”
Although replacing the two-time All-ACC performer as a leader will be difficult, Green believes Roach is up for the challenge.
“[Long] has been contributing at a high level for a long time,” Green said. “But at the same time, Wes has stepped up his level over the last three years, and I know he’s very eager to step into that role.”
The team’s incoming freshmen may not need much help, however, if their performances on the junior circuit are any indication. Yaroslav Merkulov and Austin Cody are ranked ninth and tenth in the class of 2010, respectively, according to the Polo Golf Rankings.
Merkulov finished second at the Junior Players Championship last September. Cody also came in second at the 2009 Bobby Chapman Invitational, which features some of the nation’s top high school players.
The Blue Devils begin the season September 17 at the University of Illinois’ Fighting Illini Invitational. Olympia Fields Country Club, the site of the 2003 U.S. Open, will provide a stern test for Duke—the winning team’s score at last year’s event was 30-over par.
On the weekend of October 24, the Blue Devils will have a chance to see how they stack up against the nation’s top teams at the U.S. Collegiate Championship hosted by Georgia Tech in Alpharetta, Ga. In addition to a handful of ACC rivals, the tournament field includes Washington, Texas A&M and UCLA. All three schools finished the spring season ranked in the top 10.
Even though Duke failed to win a single tournament last fall, the Blue Devils still went on to finish a respectable third at the ACC Championship and qualify for the NCAA Championship as well. Yet, this year’s seasoned squad wants to go beyond those accomplishments—starting with a win before the spring.
“We know we can achieve great things,” Roach said. “But it’s going to be crucial for us to get a win in the fall to build our confidence.”