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Blue Devils shoot for league title

The Blue Devils hope the only similarity between the 2004 and 2005 ACC Tournaments are the performances of the team’s two leaders.

A year ago, Duke finished sixth out of nine teams, 20 strokes behind victorious Clemson. But when they make a run for the ACC title this year, the No. 9 Blue Devils will have three new golfers to go along with their two best scorers from 2004, juniors Ryan Blaum and Nathan Smith.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to play,” said head coach Rod Myers of the tournament that starts today in New London, N.C. “There’s no question that having Ryan’s and Nate’s [experience] will help us.”

In addition to its two stars, Duke’s lineup features sophomore Jake Grodzinsky and freshmen Michael Quagliano and Michael Schachner. None of the three have played at the Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point, but Blaum does not believe the new surroundings will cause them trouble.

“I don’t think they’ll struggle, mainly because these three players have had this kind of experience throughout the whole season,” Blaum said. “They’ve played on new courses every week. This is just another tournament.”

The par-72 course, which was home to the tournament a year ago, could be troublesome with 10 to 20 mile per hour winds in the weekend forecast.

“The course does have good length at 7,100 yards, but as long as all these guys hit the ball, 7,000 yards is not long any more,” Myers said. “You have to get to almost 7,400 yards before you think a course is long.”

Quagliano and Grodzinsky have played the most this season, but Schachner has gained momentum recently. Schachner finished in a tie for second last week at the Courtyard Marriott Invitational, a tournament that Duke won.

“[We’re] coming off playing really good golf, 16-under par in two rounds, is as good as we’ve played all year,” Myers said. “That’s a real positive.”

To continue their winning ways, the Blue Devils will need strong showings from both Blaum and Smith. In the current rankings, Duke is the second-best ACC team. Only Georgia Tech, third in the nation, is ahead of the Blue Devils.

“I feel that Georgia Tech is the team to beat,” Myers said. “Of their five guys, almost every one played [at the ACC Championship] last year.”

In Duke’s only tournament that included the Yellow Jackets—the Puerto Rico Classic in the end of February—Duke finished seventh, 24 strokes behind the triumphant Georgia Tech squad.

Individually, the Yellow Jackets are the only team with a player ahead of Blaum—Roberto Castro ranks seventh in the country. Georgia Tech also has the 18th and 23rd best players nationally.

The Blue Devils will not be grouped with the Yellow Jackets on day one. Instead, Duke golfers will be teeing off with those from Clemson and Maryland. The Terrapins are currently the lowest-ranked ACC team at 161st in the nation, which worries Myers slightly.

“I don’t think it is an advantage,” Myers said of playing with a weaker opponent. “I think you always feel like you’re going to play better when you play with better players. But honestly, right now I feel that our confidence is so high that it won’t affect our players.”


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