Sunday’s final round was set up to be another nail-biter between the Blue Devils and Alabama, but Mother Nature had other plans—heavy rain prevented the Landfall Tradition’s final 18 holes from ever starting.
With Duke holding a narrow lead against the Crimson Tide after 36 holes, though, it meant that the Blue Devils were declared tournament champions, capping off a successful finish to one of the best fall seasons in team history.
Duke posted a score of 14-under-par to top Alabama by one stroke in the 18-team event, which was held Friday and Saturday at the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C. Although senior Leona Maguire had led the Blue Devils in every event coming into this weekend, it was sophomore Ana Belac who stole the show at the par-72 course, carding a 66 Friday and a 69 Saturday to finish 9-under-par and share the individual title with Virginia’s Beth Lillie.
Belac’s opening round of 66 was a career-best as well as a Friday tournament record. The sophomore birdied seven of her first 12 holes and went as low as 8-under-par during the round, but bogeyed the 17th and 18th holes to finish at 6-under-par. The Slovenian then got off to a slower start Saturday—shooting 1-over par on the front nine—but birdied four holes on the back nine to remain atop the leaderboard.
“I never watched her play golf until the 15th or 16th hole [Friday], so I didn’t see a lot of that golf,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “But I know what her golf has been like and she’s just got a really beautiful, compact swing, is very efficient and she just did a lot of great things. And then I watched her [Saturday] and saw some more solid golf.”
The result was déjà vu for the Blue Devils and Crimson Tide, who squared off in a tough battle two weeks ago in Chapel Hill with the same exact result—Duke emerging victorious by one shot.
Heavy rain and standing water throughout the course Sunday meant that severe modifications to the setup would have been needed to complete the final round. But Brooks said the coaches collectively decided Sunday morning that it was not worth the trouble of playing through the tough conditions, especially considering that things could worsen with more rain falling throughout the day.
“We were aware that the last day might rain out. We had talked about the weather, everybody knew it, but we didn’t put any emphasis on the round [Saturday],” Brooks said. “[The tournament host] had just gone out with the head rules official and described all the casual water and what it looked like and how some of the tees would have to be moved way up, and the rain was still coming down, and then the coaches together said, ‘Let’s just not even do it.’”
Maguire tied for ninth place after carding rounds of 72 and 70, marking the first time this season that she was beaten by one of her teammates. The Cavan, Ireland, native had an eventful front nine Friday—she posted a double bogey, bogey and three birdies before settling down on the back nine, where she had nine straight pars.
On Saturday, Maguire used three birdies and a lone bogey to finish at 2-under-par for the event. The senior was fresh off four rounds of competition at last week’s LPGA qualifying school, which Brooks said likely made fatigue a contributing factor to her performance this weekend.
Jaravee Boonchant was the second-best Blue Devil at the 6,166-yard Pete Dye design, as the newcomer tied for fifth, her fourth top-15 result of the season. The freshman rolled in four birdies Friday to just one bogey—yielding a 3-under-par 69—but struggled in the closing holes of Saturday’s front nine, combining for 4-over-par on the 7th, 8th and 9th holes. Boonchant quickly made up for those black numbers, though, by posting the team’s first eagle of the season, as she holed out a pitching wedge from 100 yards on the par-4 12th hole to help her shoot 71.
“She actually didn’t strike the ball really well, and that’s just testimony to how good a player she is, how smart a thinker she is,” Brooks said. “She didn’t hit it terribly but it wasn’t exactly the way she’d like to hit it, and she comes out with her best performance of the fall.”
Junior Virginia Elena Carta and freshman Miranda Wang rounded out Duke’s lineup with scores of 10-over-par and 3-over-par, respectively. Wang shot 70 Friday, but a triple bogey on the first hole Saturday made it difficult for her to move up the leaderboard, as she carded a 75. Carta had a double bogey Friday and triple bogey Saturday—in addition to six bogies—that were countered with just five birdies.
The victory is the third win in four events for the Blue Devils, making this the first fall in which the team has won three stroke play events since 2005, when the team went on to win the national championship.
“I think we’ve had a great fall season,” Brooks said. “We’ve had tremendous chemistry. We have seven people on this team and I feel like they were all very much on board all fall and it’s been a lot of fun…Great spirit and some really good golf.”
Duke will have plenty of time to recharge before its next event, the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge held Feb. 11-13 in Palos Verdes, Calif.
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