Sometimes bunkers, water hazards and narrow fairways aren't the only obstacles a golfer must overcome to find success-defending ACC Champion Ryan Blaum can attest to that.
The senior from Coral Gables, Fla. began racking up awards as early as his freshman year, from Duke's Team MVP to the program's second-ever ACC Rookie of the Year. Despite all of the accolades Blaum received on the course, however, he was struggling off it. Setbacks in the classroom prevented him from participating in the ACC Championships that season.
Now, Blaum has the opportunity to enter the record books as the first Blue Devil men's golfer to win back-to-back ACC individual titles.
"He's just developed as a young man as much as anything," head coach Rod Myers said. "He was a good player as a freshman, but I think he appreciates this opportunity even more now."
Blaum comes into ACC Championship play this weekend not only as the defending individual medalist, but also at what Myers called "the top of his game."
Myers' assessment speaks volumes about the level of his star's play, especially considering last season Blaum was named first team All-America and ACC Player of the Year.
In his last tournament before postseason play-the Courtyard by Marriott Intercollegiate April 8 at MacGregor Downs-Blaum carded a 14-under-par 202, taking the individual title by a dominant six strokes.
"I think he's gotten more and more confident, his swing has gotten more grooved, he's putting really well," Myers said. "He really doesn't have any weaknesses in his game."
If the senior wants to help his team defend its title, though, he's going to have to continue to play that way. Five teams in the ACC are ranked in the top 20 nationally: Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina-slotted at fourth, 10th, 15th, 16th and 19th, respectively.
Blaum's role has become even more central to the team's success as he and junior Jake Grodzinsky were the only two Blue Devils who had secured their spots in this weekend's lineup before Myers had his team play qualifying rounds Thursday. Five of their teammates had to compete to win the last three spots for the tournament roster.
Winning another ACC title-particularly for his team-would be the perfect way to end what has been an accomplished college career. But the senior is not going to put extra pressure on himself, he said.
"It feels a little bit different knowing that this is my last go-around," Blaum said. "It would be easy to put pressure on myself to win, but I really feel pretty relaxed. I just want to go out there and win for Coach Myers. It would feel more special for me to win one for him-to help the team win some tournaments for coach-because he's meant so much to me in my career here at Duke."
Blaum will take awards, wins and momentum with him into championship play, and he hopes to come out with even more than when he entered it.
"We've got a young man here who's a senior and who knows he's as good as anybody in this field, and he expects to play that way," Myers said.
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