Sitting in the clubhouse Saturday afternoon after completing their final round of the NCAA East Regional, the Blue Devils were unsure of their fate. With five teams fighting for the final three spots to advance to the NCAA Championship, No. 9 Duke turned in its scorecard and waited nearly an hour for other teams to finish play before learning of their eighth-place tie, good enough to earn a berth in the championship.
“We were hanging on by our fingernails at the end,” head coach Rod Myers said. “Overall, we were just happy to qualify to advance to the NCAA Championship.”
Entering the final round only five strokes behind the leader and in fifth place, the Blue Devils may have had their sights set on winning the tournament rather than simply qualifying, but Duke delivered a shaky final round at the Golf Club of Tennessee in Nashville, with all five players scoring over par.
Freshman Michael Schachner led the Blue Devils, turning in one of the best performances of his career. After an opening round 69, he tied the tournament low with an eight-under-par 63 in the second round, vaulting him into second place.
“I don’t even know how to describe Schachner’s play, but it just doesn’t get any better than that,” Myers said. “He really got it going that second round, hitting everything right at the flagstick.”
Schachner struggled early in the final round, however, sitting at 4-over par through 13 holes. But over the final five holes, Schachner salvaged his round, notching three birdies to get himself to 1-over par and putting Duke in a position to qualify for the NCAA Championship. Myers was impressed by the recovery, believing that it revealed a lot about the freshman’s character, he said.
The team also learned that sophomore Jake Grodzinsky can deliver for the Blue Devils, as he earned the team’s second-best tournament score at 1-under par. On day two, Grodzinsky sat at 5-under through 17 holes before a triple bogey dropped him to 2-under par for the tournament.
“A lot of the good stuff happened because of Schachner’s strong play and Jake’s solid play,” Myers said. “We’re going to need all five guys to make a run at the Championship.”
Duke’s two stars, No. 10 Ryan Blaum and No. 29 Nathan Smith, both delivered less than stellar performances. In his first tournament after winning the ACC individual title, Blaum finished at 2-over in a tie for 39th. Smith carded a 73 in the final round, which included two birdies and four bogeys, placing him in a tie for 61st place at 5-over par. But Myers does not believe that this tournament will affect the players’ confidence entering the NCAA Championship.
“I don’t think our confidence entering the NCAA Championship was hurt at all by this tournament,” Myers said. “In fact, it may be stronger. We now have more confidence in Schachner and Grodzinsky. When our top two guys start to feel better about the guys behind them, they’ll start to relax a little bit more.”
Duke is one of 30 teams to qualify for the NCAA Championship, which starts Wednesday, June 1 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md. and continues through Saturday. There is a 54-hole cut, after which the top 15 teams will play on the final day. Duke is one of three ACC teams to qualify. No. 3 Georgia Tech and No. 14 Wake Forest will also play in the Championship.
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