On a beautiful March day, the men's golf team came out to practice on the range, sailing drives toward the picturesque Washington Duke Inn.
To an outsider, the scene would have seemed perfect. But the players knew differently.
For the past three months, they have been playing without their head coach, Rod Myers, who is in the battle for his life against an acute form of leukemia.
"It's weird, even in practice-just not having him around-it's like something's missing," senior Jake Grodzinsky said.
Myers used to walk the line of tee boxes, asking players about their days and their classes, cracking jokes and gently teasing them about their girlfriends.
In his 34 years as head coach at Duke, Myers has guided 14 All-Americans, nine Academic All-Americans, 22 All-ACC selections and three ACC Individual Champions.
He has led the Blue Devils to 27 team tournament titles, an ACC Championship and six trips to the NCAA Championships.
But all of these impressive numbers pale in comparison to the number of lives Myers has touched.
It is impossible to quantify how much a person means to another person, let alone hundreds of people, but the outpouring of support for the 67 year-old coach since January-when it was officially announced he had leukemia-has been overwhelming.
In that same month, Myers and his family opened an account on carepages.com, a networking site designed to allow cancer patients to update their day-to-day status for friends and family across the country. On each individual page is a message board so people following the progress of patients can leave notes of love and encouragement.
In the past three months alone, 695 posts have been left for Myers-everyone from former players to groundskeepers and church choir directors wanted to let him and his family know they care.
The wide range of people who have felt compelled to leave prayers, share anecdotes or remind Myers of rounds of 18 he owes them attests to the kind of person the coach is.
"He's by far the most well-connected person I've ever met," junior Michael Schachner said. "He just knows so many people, and I've never heard a person say a bad thing about him. Everyone he's ever come in contact with has loved him. It's not very often you find someone like that."
In addition to making the Duke golf program into one of the best in the country, Myers has made it into a family.
Over 100 former golfers stay connected through e-mail, and now, more than ever, they are banding together to support the man who has always supported them.
"Personally, coach Myers is a second father figure. He's my mentor. He's a great friend-he's all that wrapped into one person," interim head coach Brad Sparling said. "He's a great golf coach, but he's an even better man."
Sparling, who was an assistant under Myers for three years, is not alone in his admiration of the coach. In an article published Feb. 24 in Golfweek, senior writer Ron Balicki ran a letter written by former Blue Devil Mike Castleforte, which expressed how profoundly Myers has affected the lives of his players.
When asked about what inspired him to write the letter and why so many people seemed so invested in Myers' progress, Castleforte's answer was simple, but telling.
"Because he took such an interest in all of us-while we were [at Duke] and once when we left-that it was just natural to want to stay in contact with him and keep track of his progress," Castleforte said.
And it is that connection that has led so many former and current Blue Devils to consider Myers to be a second father, a best friend and a confidant.
"In college golf, you tend to see a lot of coaches who love you when you're doing well and just don't really care about you when you're not, who really just value people for what they could offer to them [on the course]," Grodzinsky said. "With Coach, it wasn't like that. Every person meant something to him."
Myers never had to demand the respect of his players explicitly because his passion for and his knowledge of the game did that for him, pushing his players to be the best.
In 2005, the Blue Devils won the team ACC Championship and then-junior Ryan Blaum, who would become the first player in Duke history to win All-American honors three times, took the individual championship.
Blaum, who is now playing professionally on the Nationwide Tour, recalls the moments after the win as one of his fondest memories of his coach.
"I was coming off the green knowing that we won and giving him a hug," Blaum said. "I had promised him during the year that we would win one either that year or the next. And we won it. He broke down crying. Being able to win that tournament for him was my proudest moment at Duke."
In August of that same year, the Karcher-Ingram Golf Center opened, providing state-of-the-art facilities for the men's and women's golf teams.
The Center was the brainchild of Myers, who was always thinking of how to improve Duke golf-and in big ways.
"This is what he probably dreamt that Duke golf would turn into," Schachner said at practice on the driving range specially designed for the varsity teams.
As Myers continues in the fight for his life, the 20th-ranked Blue Devils continue to practice and compete, striving to live up to the high standards their coach set for them from Day One.
"He is this program," Sparling said. "Rod Myers is Duke golf."
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