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Men's Golf Look to Avenge Last Year's Near-Miss

The Duke men’s golf team needed 883 strokes in the NCAA East Regional last May. One swing fewer and the team would have qualified for the NCAA Championships.

“That was really frustrating, being one stroke off of the NCAA finals,” head coach Rod Myers said. “Our guys really realized that we were better than that. I know that for Ryan Blaum, Nate Smith and Alex Wilson, it is going to help drive them.”

Compounding the team’s misfortune, Blaum also missed the individual championship cut by one stroke.

“It definitely has motivated me,” Blaum said. “I realized how much it hurts not to go.”

Blaum and Smith had solid fall seasons to follow their summers when they took the course against pro competition. Smith, ranked 36th in the nation, qualified for the U.S. Open and missed the cut by a single stroke. The 11th-ranked Blaum won the Landfall Tradition and came in second in the Duke Classic this fall.

“The end goal is the National Championship,” Blaum said. “But in order to get there you have to take little steps along the way and accomplish and achieve the smaller goals. We need to play one tournament at a time, simply trying to do our best in each.”

Before returning to the NCAA Regionals in May, the 12th-ranked Blue Devils play a slate of six events, including the ACC Tournament where they will compete with No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 6 Wake Forest. Myers called the ACC, which features four team in the top 16, the best conference in nation.

Still, with his two top-ranked juniors, Myers said he believes his team can compete for Duke’s first ACC crown since 1966.

“I’m probably as enthusiastic as I’ve ever been,” said Myers, who is in his 32nd year as the Duke coach. “We had a real strong fall. This could be the best team that I’ve had at Duke.”

The Blue Devils finished in the top two in two of its five fall tournaments, winning the Duke Classic against a field of second-tier competition.

During this stretch, freshmen Michael Quagliano and Michael Schachner struggled early but by the end of the fall were putting together more consistent rounds.

“We played two freshmen all the way this fall,” Myers said. “We had an awfully good fall from Quagliano. Schachner can give us much more than he gave us in the fall, and I expect him to.”

Quagliano will probably be in the starting lineup, Myers said, but the fourth and fifth spots are up for grabs with just more than a week remaining before the team begins play.

A number of different players are expected to fill those two spots, including Schachner, freshman Bryce Mueller, sophomore Jake Grodzinsky, junior Alex Wilson and the team’s lone senior, Tom Lefebvre. Wilson and Lefebvre have consistently received playing time over the past several seasons.

“We’re probably going to have some lineups with some changes,” Myers said. “I think it is going to be a shootout, if things continue to go as they have in our practice rounds so far. But the competition between them is good. They are pushing each other to play better.”

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