Led by their freshman phenom, the Blue Devils got off to a blazing start and never looked back, claiming their second team title of the season.
No. 3 Duke won the 54-hole Darius Rucker Intercollegiate at the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head, S.C., by 10 strokes Sunday led by freshman Yu Liu. Liu—who has yet to finish outside the top 10 at any tournament—took the individual title after draining a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to cap the dominant performance by the Blue Devils.
Duke led by eight strokes after the first round and placed all four of its golfers that finished the tournament in the top 15. Senior Alejandra Cangrejo—the fifth and final member of the lineup—was forced to withdraw early in the first round after re-aggravating an elbow injury, but that was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect week for the Blue Devils.
“I’m just very proud of them,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “I’m proud of the work they put in coming into this tournament. Despite our [difficult] winter [of weather] that we’ve had, I felt like we were pretty prepared. That’s a testimony to their hard work.”
Liu—who is known for her work ethic—saw her intense preparation pay off this week. The Beijing native opened with a two-under-par 69 to finish in a tie for second after the first round. She stayed in the top five after the second day—carding a one-over-par 72 to remain in contention—before starting the final round on fire.
Liu got her overall score to four-under-par after a string of birdies, and battled LSU's Caroline Nistrup down the stretch to get into the playoff with a final score of two-under-par after a final-round 70. Liu stayed poised under pressure on the first extra hole, rolling in the long putt to claim her first individual title as a Blue Devil.
“I’d say this golf course wasn’t exactly suited to her game,” Brooks said. “Obviously, it wasn’t that far off because she won. [The course] has narrow fairways and is a real placement golf course where you need to place your drive. She hits it really hard and really far, but it seemed like she was able to adapt her game to this golf course, and she came out on top.”
One of Liu’s closest competitors was her own teammate—sophomore Celine Boutier. The Frenchwoman matched Liu’s opening round 69 and carded an even-par 71 in the second round to enter the final 18 holes in a tie for second place.
Boutier just missed out on the playoff, shooting a one-over-par 72 on the final day to finish at one-under-par for the tournament.
“She just played really solid golf,” Brooks said. “She was hitting the ball well, but didn’t get putts to fall. If she had putts fall in today, she would have won this tournament. She was close a lot on her second shots. She played great golf and handled the pressure very well.”
In just her third start for Duke, freshman Esther Lee also handled the pressure well. The California native carded consistent rounds of 72, 73 and 74 to finish at six-over-par in a tie for 12th.
Senior Laetitia Beck was also vital to Duke’s success, sneaking into a tie for 15th after a final round 71 gave her a three-day total of seven-over-par.
Liu and Boutier led the way, but Lee and Beck made sure that Duke was never really threatened during the final 36 holes with their heady play.
“I think we have smart players,” Brooks said. “This is a course that required you to think. Honestly, the biggest mental mistake I saw out there this week was made by me. I was trying to help Celine out and I miss-clubbed her. That was the biggest mistake I know of that happened in the tournament for the Blue Devils. They really put some great thought into their shots.”
Duke’s performance was even more impressive considering Cangrejo’s injury and the strength of the field. Four of the nation’s top six teams competed at the event, and the Blue Devils still won by double-digits. Duke also held a 23-stroke advantage over the third place team.
The Blue Devils definitely enjoyed their first trip to the 6,142-yard, par-71 golf course—so much so that they have already committed to return in the future.
“I told everybody that we’re coming back,” Brooks said. “I just love the golf course and I think it’s going to make us better to play it. It’s a Pete Dye course and I just happen to really love what he does.”