Looking to build off a dominant performance at the ACC Championship, the Blue Devils will look to qualify for the NCAA Championship this weekend on an unfamiliar golf course.
No. 3 Duke will tee off at the East Regional at SouthWood Golf Club in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday. The three-day, 54-hole event features 24 teams—eight of which are ranked in Golfweek’s top 25—all looking to advance to the NCAA Championship May 20-23 at Tulsa Golf & Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. The top eight teams in the regional will qualify for the Championship.
Although the top-seeded Blue Devils have finished no worse than second in their last seven tournaments and won the ACC Championship by 27 strokes, they have never played at SouthWood Golf Club before, making Wednesday’s practice round at the 6,257-yard, par-72 layout even more valuable.
“It all comes down to the practice round,” ACC Coach of the Year Dan Brooks said. “This team has been really good at practice rounds. We take them very seriously and study the course and learn everything you can about it. I think we should be okay. The weather’s going to be pretty good so I think it’s going to be pretty consistent.”
Duke’s trio of All-ACC performers should give the Blue Devils an edge as postseason competition intensifies.
ACC Player of the Year Celine Boutier—the sixth-ranked player in Golfweek’s individual rankings—won her last three starts of the regular season, including a five-stroke victory at the conference championship. But the sophomore is still not Duke’s highest-ranked performer.
ACC Freshman of the Year Yu Liu is ranked third, and still has yet to finish outside the top 10 at any tournament. Liu’s intimidating power and driving distance give her a huge advantage against her competitors, but the Beijing native has struggled with her accuracy off the tee in recent weeks since winning the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in early March.
Senior Laetitia Beck is ranked 10th in the nation and has earned five top-five finishes on the season, giving Duke one of the best trios in the nation. The Blue Devils are the only squad with three individuals ranked in the top 10.
Despite their immense talent, Dukes hope that playing with the mentality of an underdog will keep it hungry on its quest to compete for a national championship.
“During the regular season we were third, so we expected to be a first seed,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to go in there and play hard like we’re not the first seed. That’ll get us through regionals and then the nationals and that’ll also prepare us for mentally for how we want to be when we get to the championship.”
Freshman Sandy Choi and senior Alejandra Cangrejo will round out the Blue Devil lineup this week. The duo has combined for four top-20 finishes on the season and will be vital to Duke's postseason success because each team's top four scores count towards the team score.
Cangrejo’s presence in the lineup is also valuable because of her previous postseason success and leadership. The Colombian finished second at last year’s Central Regional to help the Blue Devils claim the title.
Cangrejo and Beck have the opportunity to go out on top and help guide three talented underclassmen through the ups and downs of competitive postseason golf.
“It’s exciting. These two have really worked hard and they’ve really helped us a lot,” Brooks said. “I think they’re playing their best golf, right here at the end of the year I’d say both of them are playing the best they’ve played all year. That’s a very positive thing and we’re looking forward to these last two tournaments.”