After a difficult opening round for Duke, the team needed to rally the following two days to begin its spring season how it ended its fall one: with a victory.
Instead, the Blue Devils remained stagnant during the final 36 holes, failing to make up ground on the leaders and resulting in the team’s worst stroke-play finish of the 2017-18 campaign.
No. 4 Duke finished with a three-day, 41-over-par total of 893 at the Northrop Grumman Challenge, netting an eighth-place finish among an elite 18-team field that included many of the nation’s best teams. During Sunday’s first round of competition at Palos Verdes Golf Club in Palos Verdes, Calif., the team dug itself into a hole by carding just four birdies and an eagle among the five golfers, and though the frequency of red numbers improved as the event went on—the team averaged 12 birdies per round Monday and Tuesday—a slew of bogies prevented the Blue Devils from moving significantly up the leaderboard.
Duke’s final-round score of 20-over-par was worse than the three-day total of 15-over-par accumulated by the tournament’s champion, No. 1 UCLA.
“It just wasn’t a very good day today,” Blue Devil head coach Dan Brooks said. “That’s just the way it is, plain and simple. The course was set up a little bit tougher today, so you saw some pretty high numbers from a lot of teams, but that doesn’t explain 20-over for Duke. We’re better than that. It was the third day of seeing it. We’re going to probably chat with each player—everybody’s an individual in this game—and just find what we can work on and see if we can do better next time.”
For the fourth time in fifth events this season, Leona Maguire posted the team’s lowest score with a ledger of 8-over-par on the 6,017-yard course. The senior failed to card a birdie in her opening round en route to a 75—her highest score so far this season—before bouncing back Monday with five birdies and a 2-under-par 69. Maguire’s struggles returned during her final 18 holes, though, as a lone birdie countered by a stretch of five bogeys in six holes contributed to a Tuesday score of 77.
One of the lone bright spots of the week’s performance came from sister Lisa Maguire, who tied for 41st. Brooks hinted before the event that the senior made great strides in her game during the winter offseason, and her performance on the par-71 course this week showed it. The Cavan, Ireland, native opened with the team’s second-best score of 74 Monday by hitting 13 greens and seven fairways in regulation, and followed it with two rounds of 76 for a 54-hole total of 226—her lowest three-day tournament score since the 2016 Windy City Classic.
“She will shine. It’s a matter of when it’s going to happen, but she’s really hard on herself,” Brooks said. “So I’m trying to remind her of all the good things she did not only in the qualifier but in the tournament itself. Both [were in] extremely challenging conditions, and she’s done some great things.”
Freshman Jaravee Boonchant has established herself as a reliable presence in the top half of leaderboard this season, and that trend continued this week in Palos Verdes. The Bangkok native had her worst finish of the season in a tie for 34th, but still was the second-best Duke competitor, finishing three strokes behind Leona Maguire by following a team-best opening round of 73 with scores of 73 and 78 Monday and Tuesday, respectively.
After an illness caused Virginia Elena Carta to be replaced in the lineup by Miranda Wang, the freshman tied for 49th at 15-over-par. Wang, from Beijing, struggled Sunday with an 81 in a round that included three double bogeys before bouncing back the final two rounds with scores of 74 and 73.
Ana Belac rounded out the Duke scores with a 17-over-par result, the second-highest score relative to par of her career. The sophomore—who earned an individual victory in the team’s final fall event—was one of the event’s best performers on the par-5s, but struggled mightily on the par-4 holes, where she averaged more than 0.5 strokes over par to contribute to a tie for 60th place finish.
In a field of 96 golfers, just three of them finished better than par, with No. 13 Arizona State’s Olivia Mehaffey, No. 7 Kaitlyn Papp of Texas and the Bruins’ Lillia Vu sharing co-medalist honors by finishing at a 1-under-par total of 212. On the team side, behind victorious UCLA came No. 2 Alabama and No. 5 Stanford, while the only other ACC competitor in the field—No. 25 Wake Forest—finished in 14th place with a score of 911.
Despite the tough competition on a daunting course, Brooks emphasized that every team in the field faced the same difficult circumstances and that the Blue Devils need to handle such tests better in the future.
“There’s a lot of slope on these greens,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you can’t see the slope, so it’s a challenging golf course, and it’s challenging for everybody. We didn’t handle it as well as our opponents did.”
Duke will have a chance to redeem itself in its next tournament, the Evans Derby Experience, March 18-20 in Auburn, Ala.
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