Playing on an opportunistic golf course with nothing to lose, the Blue Devils will look to contend in their biggest tournament of the season.
Duke will begin play at the ACC Championship Friday at Old North State Club in New London, N.C. The three-day, 54-hole event will feature a par-72, 7,102-yard layout that offers players plenty of birdie opportunities in good weather conditions. Last year, even with rain in the final round, the Blue Devils shot 25-under-par as a team to claim the title and set the school record for lowest score relative to par.
This season, although the team has struggled after losing four contributors from a year ago, Duke hopes to show that it can contend against a field that features four top-20 teams.
“What I’ve been telling our guys is while you’re going to make a lot of birdies, it’s really about the par saves,” head coach Jamie Green said. “I don’t think making birdies has been the challenge for our guys. We [have been] too far down the leaderboard because of the par saves we didn’t make. That’s probably what is going to end up being the difference for us being competitive this week.”
The inexperienced Blue Devils have seen the importance of converting par saves to keep rounds going this season, and their last tournament was no different. Duke tied for fifth at the Wolfpack Spring Open at Lonnie Poole Golf Course in Raleigh, carding 11-over-par 299 to finish seven shots behind tournament champion Virginia. The event was shortened to one round due to inclement weather.
Although the Blue Devils got off to a solid start in windy conditions, they were unable to sustain their play, faltering on the back nine as they have so often this season.
“The guys who fared the best controlled their golf ball with crosswinds and into a downwind,” Green said. “We got off to a pretty good start, and were [in contention] with five or six holes to play. The guys certainly put themselves in position, we just had a couple of hiccups down the stretch.”
Duke is hoping that its talented individuals can all play their best golf at the right time. Junior Turner Southey-Gordon tied for fourth last week and senior Austin Cody has finished in the top 20 in each of his last two starts.
Cody—the primary returning contributor from last season’s squad—fell out of the lineup because of a slump in the fall, but has battled back to put himself in position to close out his career on a high note.
“His chipping has been the one thing that has improved [greatly] this year,” Green said. “For him to [finally] turn the corner this year has been a combination of golf swing and trusting some changes that absolutely needed to be made. He’s worked really, really hard to stay committed to what he’s doing.”
Rounding out the Blue Devil lineup this week are sophomore Motin Yeung—who has been the team’s most consistent performer with seven under-par rounds and four top-20 finishes— and freshmen Max Greyserman and Alexander Matlari.
Greyserman and Matlari each have carded four under-par rounds this year, and will look to pay close attention during Thursday’s practice round to see where they can collect the birdies necessary for more low scores.
Duke is hoping that the talent that learned the team a top-20 preseason ranking shines on the big stage of a conference tournament.
“It’s always a goal to win that ACC Championship,” Green said. “They all want it, but so does every other team in our conference. It’s such a great environment at Old North State. There are tremendous accommodations and it’s one of those things that every guy on our team looks forward to. With that said, these guys aren’t satisfied with just showing up. They want to feel that success.”