In its first tournament of the season, Duke showed that it has the skill to compete with some of the best teams in the nation.

Despite losing two of their teammates to graduation, Chandler Eaton, Alex Smalley and Jake Shuman proved that the Blue Devils are in good hands with top-10 finishes to lead the team to a second-place finish behind No. 8 Wake Forest in the Rod Myers Invitational at the Duke University Golf Club this weekend. 

Eaton set the pace for his squad with three straight rounds of 69, never carding more than two bogeys in any of the rounds. He especially went low on the front nine, posting 10 birdies, including four in Saturday's first round.

“Sometimes it can be just as simple as mindset—not necessarily anything physically that he was doing extraordinarily well or better than days leading into this tournament, but he's certainly a very good competitor,” head coach Jaime Green said. "Taking stock of last year, I know he would probably tell you that he has a little more intensity on the opportunity to be in the position to win and try to close the door.” 

With his consistent performance, Eaton finished third, three strokes behind Saturday playing partners Will Zalatoris of Wake Forest and Norman Xiong of Oregon, who tied for the individual title. Zalatoris led the Demon Deacons to the team title at 29-under-par, seven strokes ahead of No. 24 Duke, and Xiong paced the No. 10 Ducks to a fourth-place finish behind No. 3 Vanderbilt. 

“[Eaton] was paired with two guys from the Walker Cup team just a week or two earlier, so clearly two of the best amateurs in the United States and he was holding his own,” Green said. “A lot of times, players will tell you that your games ride with those around you. When you are with some good players, oftentimes they sort of feed off of each other. I just think that was a good opportunity, a good situation for him.”

Smalley finished right behind Eaton, tied for fourth at 8-under-par. The highlight of his tournament was his bogey-free 66 Sunday that included four birdies in a six-hole stretch and stood as the lowest score of the day. Saturday, the junior posted rounds of 70 and 72, both of which counted to the team score.

“He is another one of those guys from a competitive standpoint, he can close the door. He can close the deal. Sometimes late in the rounds, some players are trying to hold on. He is looking to find some more birdies to get that score even better,” Green said. “If you look at a lot of his final rounds, a lot of times they are the best round on our team and perhaps even the best round of the tournament that day. It is not surprising when he has a day like today because he seems to have that ability.”

A new entry to the Blue Devils' starting five was sophomore Harrison Taee. Although he struggled in his first round Saturday, with four bogeys and a double bogey en route to a 77, he came back strong with a 2-under-par 70 later in the day that included a three-hole stretch of birdie-birdie-eagle. A 75 rounded out his tournament, which put him at 6-over-par, good for a tie for 37th.

“There are places on the golf course where you can catch some fire. I think that gave him a lot of surge,” Green said. “He hit a lot of quality golf shots in the first round that his score didn't show. His putting probably wasn't his best for a little while for the tournament. He would probably admit he could roll it a little bit better. It was not his Achilles' heel, but it would have been a little lower on the scorecard if his putter was hot.”

Duke also had five players competing as individuals. Among the notable performances were top-20 finishes by freshmen Evan Katz and Adrien Pendaries. The former, from Washington, overcame a 5-over-par 77 in the first round Saturday to shoot 66 later in the day and 69 Sunday, placing him tied for 12th. His second round Saturday featured two eagles. 

“Once he kind of got through that first round, first day, things started to click for him. He holed out a wedge for an eagle on one of the tougher holes on the golf course. Something like that can really get you going and give you a surge,” Green said. “He and I worked on a little something with his golf swing in his footwork and balance and transition and I think he has latched onto that and helped out a lot.

Meanwhile, Pendaries, a native of France, went 73-67-75 to finish tied for 18th at 1-under-par.

“I was thrilled to see Adrien be able to play. He hadn't played 18 holes consecutively in a month. He has had some lower back soreness and even some pain. He has been treated from the day he got on campus for freshman orientation,” Green said. “He wanted to suit up and he wanted to be out there. To have him play 54 holes, and 36 in a day, that was terrific for him to know that he has got that in him.”

The Blue Devils definitely took advantage of playing on their home track, which measured out to more than 7,100 yards and features tight fairways guarded by trees and water hazards scattered throughout the course. Duke led the field in birdies with 57 and averaged almost a half-stroke under par on the par-fives.

Following about three weeks of practice, the Blue Devils will head across the country to compete at the Nike Collegiate Invitational in Portland, Ore., where they finished 11th last fall. The field always includes most of the top teams in the nation—last year, the event featured 10 teams that finished in the top-25 and six top-10 teams.

“It is a first-class facility, world-class golf course, and certainly Nike rolls out the red carpet and pulls out all the stops to make it special for the guys and their experience so they are all looking forward to it," Green said. "I know everyone wants to be in that lineup for the trip. The golf course from a tee-to-green standpoint actually has some things similar to Duke University Golf Club. There are no houses out there, very wooded, a lot of tall pines, so maybe there will be a little comfort for our guys when we are out there.”