After charging up the leaderboard with one of the top scores of the second round Monday, the Blue Devils stumbled dramatically down the stretch of the final round to close the week on a sour note.
All five Duke golfers struggled mightily on Tuesday's back nine, leading to a 16-over round of 300 that sent the Blue Devils tumbling eight places down the leaderboard to close the Nike Collegiate Invitational in 11th place out of 15 teams. Duke improved on a 6-under-par 278 Sunday to shoot 277 in the second round, tied for the third-best round of the day and leaving the team eight strokes behind No.18 Stanford at the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Country Club in Portland, Ore.
The Blue Devils' final round matched the worst round of any team throughout the 54-hole tournament, and the 3-over-par 855 final score left the squad 30 strokes behind tournament champion and defending national champion Oklahoma.
“I do not think it was any wave or cancer that went through the team. I think sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes the bug. Unfortunately, it was one of those moments,” Duke head coach Jaime Green said. “I think fatigue set in to some degree, not that there were no other teams coming from the East Coast. We had a couple of travel mishaps—a plane misconnection and a night in Seattle—and got there a day late, so we were trying to catch up with sleep the whole time.”
Adam Wood’s overall performance was the lone bright spot of the tournament. Using five birdies on the back nine on day one and a birdie and eagle on the same stretch in day two, Wood sat tied for third at 8-under-par heading into the final round. Although he had torched the final nine holes in his previous two rounds, Wood was unable to find the same magic and bogeyed 10, 14 and 18 to shoot 1-over-par on the back and 2-over-par for the day.
The 6-under-par total score left Wood tied for 10th, seven strokes behind Norman Xiong of Oregon, who edged out Brandon Wu of Stanford and Justin Suh of Southern California for the individual title.
“He knew he was hitting the golf ball reasonably well, good enough to score, it was just whether or not he could get rolling with the putter. He did the first couple of days and was definitely seeing some five-to-10 footers drop, and a lot of times those are the difference," Green said. “One thing we talked to him about before the tournament was to celebrate the success a little bit more. It is really easy sometimes in our game to be nonchalant or passive when we have success, but when the negative comes, sometimes guys react poorly easily.
"We just wanted him to balance it out, when he made a big putt or hit a great shot, just get a little fist pump in, even if it is internal.”
The top two golfers for the Blue Devils both spoiled their final rounds with triple-bogeys or worse on the back nine.
After shooting a 3-over-par on his front nine, sophomore Chandler Eaton recovered nicely with three birdies before a triple-bogey on the par-5 18th derailed his round, leaving him at a 4-over-par 75 for the day and 2-over-par for the tournament, good for 38th. Alex Smalley, who was coming off a bogey-free 33 on the front nine, quadruple-bogeyed the par-4 14th and double-bogeyed the par-4 17th to close his round with a 5-over-par 76, leaving him alone in 55th place at 6-over-par.
Jake Shuman, who had a 3-under-par bogey-free second round, shot a 6-over-par 77 on the final day to drop to 2-over-par for the tournament, tying Eaton for 38th. Adrien Pendaries, in his second tournament as a Blue Devil, never found the red, shooting rounds of 73, 72 and 76, which left him tied for 56th.
Duke will hope to use this as a learning experience, especially because the tournament came early in the fall, months before the primary spring season.
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“The reality of it is that the learning is always a choice. Ultimately you have to look in the mirror and decide how much do you want to learn, how much do you want to adapt and be ready for these situations,” Green said. “There are going to be tournaments where we are sitting in pretty good place after the first couple of rounds and the last day, maybe the energy level is not the same and the putts are not dropping - how are we going to react?”
The Blue Devils will head to the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate in Alpharetta, Ga., in two weeks, looking to put this tournament behind them and ready to compete once again.
"Every person is willing to look at it closely individually and be mindful of it, and just recognize those signs next time sooner and have a game plan to adjust,” Green said.