Duke enters its second spring tournament looking to tackle another Pete Dye golf course in more dicey weather conditions.
After having winter offseason practices disrupted severely by weather, the No. 3 Blue Devils have found their preparation for the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at the par-71 Long Cove Club at Hilton Head Island, S.C., interrupted once again by cold temperatures and heavy rain. Duke was unable to complete its practice round Wednesday because of a torrential downpour.
Despite its disrupted practice schedule, the Blue Devils will attempt to use the lessons learned from their last tournament of the fall—the Landfall Tradition—again when play begins Thursday. Famous golf course designer Pete Dye tortured the nation’s best at the event and no team finished below par. Duke managed to grind its way to a second place finish then and it knows a similar effort will be required on another course that promises to be just as daunting.
“Pete Dye is one of the best,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “This course is no exception. It’s just great. We’ve never been here before, and it’s got everything that challenges a great player. If he shortens the hole up, he’s going to challenge you with your approach shot into the green, and if he gives you a chance to go for it on a par 5, you better hit a really good second shot.”
Duke knows that to have success at the three-day, 54-hole event, poise will be crucial. The Blue Devils should be able to meet the challenge with a lineup that features two seniors in Laetitia Beck and Alejandra Cangrejo and a freshman who has yet to finish outside the top 10 in Yu Liu.
Liu finished second at the Landfall Tradition and will look to set the pace for Duke against three other top-six teams. No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Arizona State and No. 6 Arkansas join the Blue Devils to give the event a loaded field.
Duke could have an edge on the competition because of its experience in dealing with the elements.
“We’ve had a winter with that sort of training,” Brooks said. “It’s very easy after being in so much bad weather throughout the winter to start to lose patience. That’s our challenge. We’re still dealing with the stuff that we’ve been dealing with for the last couple of months, and it’s getting old, but they can’t let it get old. They need to keep fighting.”
Rounding out Duke’s lineup this week will be sophomore Celine Boutier and freshman Esther Lee. Boutier has started every tournament for the Blue Devils this season and been the team’s most consistent performer along with Beck. Boutier helped the team secure its first top-five finish of the season in September when Liu was competing in her native country of China.
Lee is still attempting to solidify her spot in the lineup and will be making her third start after recording a pair of top-25 finishes in her first two outings. Brooks has the luxury of having freshman Sandy Choi—another touted young player—available in case of injury or in case any of his players go into a funk, and will look to continue evaluating all his players from week-to-week.
The Blue Devils know the most important thing is playing their best golf at the right time and using their early-season experiences to help them perform under pressure. Their first of two March events offers them the perfect opportunity to see where they are with 10 weeks left in the season.
“You just can’t let the elements get to you,” Brooks said. “My desire is for my players to keep accepting the conditions and keep being patient. [They] need to do [their] very, very best regardless of the challenges that we’re running into with the weather and the tough golf course. The way you walk and the way you control yourself on the course—that’s what it’s all about.”