About midway through Saturday’s final round of the ACC championship, the Blue Devils sat 6-over-par on the day and had seen their nine-stroke lead disappear as No. 4 Florida State surged.
But as it had all weekend, Duke collected itself and got contributions throughout the lineup to go 5-under-par the rest of the way and cruise to a record 20th conference title.
The No. 8 Blue Devils led wire to wire Thursday through Saturday at the Reserve Golf Club in Pawleys Island, S.C., restoring their nine-shot lead with a 1-over-par final round and finishing with a three-day total of 5-under-par. Leona Maguire led Duke by capturing her second individual conference championship with a total of 6-under-par after a sparkling 68 Thursday, but the junior was not the only Blue Devil to find success this weekend.
All five players in Duke’s starting lineup finished tied for 17th or better, allowing the Blue Devils to end their two-year drought without a conference championship. Head coach Dan Brooks’ team has now won four ACC titles in the past six years and looks poised to contend for a national championship after pulling away from a field with four other top-20 teams.
With the victory, Duke has won its last two stroke-play events heading into NCAA regionals in three weeks.
“We knew Florida State was going to push us to the very end,” Maguire told reporters after the round. “I knew it was going to take a hard rally down the stretch on the back nine. Give credit where credit is due to all the girls—we fought until the very end and managed to pull away.”
Although the ACC championship moved to South Carolina this year because of North Carolina’s House Bill 2, the Blue Devils looked right at home coming out of the gates.
On the par-72, 6,192-yard layout, Maguire showed why she is the No. 1 amateur player in the world, shredding the par-5s on her way to a 4-under-par round Thursday that put her tied atop the individual leaderboard.
Her teammates all shot between 71 and 74 to stake the team a one-shot advantage that ballooned to nine on day two when the Cavan, Ireland, native stayed tied for the individual lead with an even-par 72 and freshman Ana Belac’s 2-under-par round gave Duke some separation as its nearest competitors struggled.
Although the Seminoles mounted a rally Saturday, Florida State’s Kim Metraux—who entered the final round tied with Maguire at 4-under-par—shot 79 to make Maguire’s path to the individual title much easier. Maguire fired a steady 70 on the final day, finishing the week 6-under-par on par-5s to top the field and also tying for the best par-4 scoring among ACC competitors by playing 3-under-par golf on the medium-length holes.
“She really took care of business,” Brooks told reporters after the round. “She just does some things with her wedges that I don’t see other players doing—that’s an incredible strength of hers.”
Maguire was expected to contend for another conference crown after also winning the individual title in 2015, but it was the work of her teammates that earned the Blue Devils the team title and let them end Virginia’s two-year reign as conference champions. Brooks’ team finished with seven more birdies than any other team with 49.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Senior Sandy Choi finished tied for fourth with a 1-under-par cumulative total after sandwiching rounds of 71 around a Friday 73. The team’s only senior and two-time All-ACC selection got back to playing steady golf after an erratic weekend at the LSU Tiger Golf Classic and helped right the ship when Duke got off to a poor start in the final round.
“Sandy has played her best golf at Duke when we’ve needed it most—she’s done it all four years,” Brooks said. “Nobody has seen this course before, so I thought they [all] did a great job.”
In her postseason debut, Belac’s second-round 70 was instrumental in the Blue Devils shooting the round of the day Friday following their 4-under-par effort Thursday that ended up being the best round of the week. The freshman shot 74 Thursday and Saturday to post 2-over-par and end up in a tie for 14th in her first ACC championship—she has now finished in the top 15 in all but one of her starts this spring.
Sophomore Virginia Elena Carta and junior Gurbani Singh were solid just like their teammates and finished one shot behind Belac to tie for 17th. The individual NCAA champion from last season, Carta struggled Saturday with a 75 after opening with back-to-back rounds of even par, but her teammates offset the damage.
Singh shot rounds of 73, 72 and 74 during the week to extend her top-20 streak to four and again illustrate the depth in Duke’s lineup this season.
As was the case when the Blue Devils captured their last ACC title in 2013-14 and went on to win the national championship, any of the five members of Duke’s lineup are capable of winning any given week and all five appear to be playing some of their best golf at the right time.
The Blue Devils will look to stay sharp when they visit Northwestern for a match-play tune-up April 29 similar to the one the teams played April 2 in Durham before opening NCAA regional action May 8.
“We had some good golf going on,” Brooks said. “Virginia and Ana were a little rough on the front [nine Saturday], that’s where we ended up in that tied position. Both of them righted their ships coming in, and that made all the difference in the world.”