Following four top-five finishes throughout the year, Duke finally was able to hold its lead and secure a much-needed victory Sunday.
Dealing with unseasonable conditions at the start of April, the Blue Devils weathered the storm over the weekend in Normal, Ill., and won both the individual and team titles at the D.A. Weibring Intercollegiate at the Weibring Golf Club.
The two-day tournament, which featured 54 holes of golf, started off with rain and gusty winds for the first 18 holes Saturday morning. The contest ended with no better weather, as Duke golfers fought accumulating snow to complete their final 18 Sunday.
"We knew the forecast, it was like 23 degrees and wind chill down to about 11 to start the round. But the golf course superintendent felt like the golf course was going to be fine. So it was just really a matter of again sort of toughing it out," head coach Jaime Green said. "Our guys did a really good job of preparing whether it was what they wore or how they warmed up to how they stayed warm on the golf course. They did a really nice job at the end of the round. It had gotten a little weird just because with so much snow accumulating ice was literally sticking to the golf ball."
"I feel like our guys put themselves in a really good mental place where they were able to handle whatever the wind conditions or cold conditions were. And by that you just have to accept results and not get caught up too emotionally if something bad does happen," Green said.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, the victory was all but secured Sunday, as they entered the final round up 15 strokes on Wisconsin. The more interesting question was who would take home the individual title, with Duke’s own Adam Wood and Chandler Eaton duking it out alongside the Badgers’ Griffin Barela, who had a two-stroke advantage on Eaton starting the final round.
But Wood parred his final 12 holes to finish the day at an even-par 71 and a tournament total of a 4-over-par 217. Meanwhile, Eaton and Barela, who were paired together, both stumbled on the 18th hole to fall back into a tie with Wood. Eaton bogeyed three of his last five holes of the final round for a 1-over-par 72, while Barela shot a 2-over-par back nine en route to a 74, leaving all three golfers tied at 217 for the individual title.
"You know Adam is just from that neck of the woods. He grew up outside Indianapolis. Some of the guys that are from that area, they played in some cold and some crazy weather before," Green said. "I think maybe sort of reliving some of those moments back in his [Wood] junior golf and amateur golf history - just knowing how to handle those situations. But I think he would have said himself that he has worked really hard on his technique especially his golf swing and had to endure some bumps along the road."
On the team side of the competition, the blustery conditions Saturday morning left the field wide open, with all the squads struggling to find the red in the difficult environment. The Blue Devils found themselves tied for second with Fort Wayne—one stroke behind SIU Edwardsville—with a 19-over-par first round led by Eaton’s 74.
But as the winds died down and the golfers took the course for the second time of the day, Duke asserted its dominance and took control of the tournament. With four players carding even-par, the Blue Devils’ 284 team score was seven strokes clear of the next best tally, setting the team up with a 15-stroke lead heading into the final round.
"Most players will tell you the more difficult thing to play in is wind especially when it's gusting the way that it was on Saturday. I mean obviously you know what everyone always says is correct - everyone's playing under the same conditions especially in a shotgun situation," Green said. "When wind gusts come and go obviously there is a bit of a luck factor there. It can be pretty challenging especially when the wind is blowing across holes either from right to left or left or right."
Instead of collapsing as it had done on the final day earlier in the year at the Nike Collegiate Invitational and Georgia Collegiate, Duke kept its foot on the gas and registered another even-par performance, paced by freshman Adrien Pendaries’ 1-under-par 70. The team finished the tournament with a total score of 871, maintaining its 15-stroke margin of victory.
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Although Eaton and Wood headlined the team’s performance, four of the starters and two other individuals finished in the top 15. Alex Smalley, who played in the No. 1 position, overcame a 6-over-par 77 start to shoot two rounds of 71 and finish alone in sixth place.
Pendaries also saw significant improvement from his 8-over-par 79 opening round with scores of 71 and 70 to close in seventh. Another freshman also made some noise, as Qi wen Wong—who competed as an individual—shot a 5-over-par 218 for the tournament to find himself tied for fourth. Individuals Evan Katz and Shrish Dwivedi tied for 15th, finishing at 10-over-par 223 for the tournament.
"It wouldn't be uncommon for us to have a lot of guys finish in the top 15. I think we have that sort of depth on our squad," Green said. "There's an environment where all guys feel equal and they all feel like they have the same opportunities available to them. There's a lot of unity and a lot of bonding in their work ethic. And so you know I'm not surprised to see a number of our guys play well in that environment."
The Blue Devils topped the field in scoring average for the short, medium and long holes. Playing on the 6,915-yard track, they averaged a tournament-best 3.35 and 4.12 on the par-3 and par-4’s, respectively. Duke capitalized on the par-5’s as well, closing at 5-under-par on those holes overall.
The victory should be a huge confidence booster for the squad as it prepares for postseason play. Following encouraging top-five finishes at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate and Valspar Collegiate Championship in its previous tournaments, Duke will look to continue to play its best golf of the year in less than two weeks at the Stitch Intercollegiate at MacGregor Downs in its final competition before the ACC tournament.
"We want our guys to be very much like Teflon. The bad stuff comes out you let it slide right off but when you have good tournaments and good rounds you want to soak that in. It is a good thing for us to have momentum but really momentum is just attitude," Green said. "It's nice to have some recent history in your memory bank. But again these guys work really hard to maintain high self belief. And that should bode well for us as we get into April here."