With a last-minute lineup change and a less-than-healthy roster, the Blue Devils had their work cut out for them this weekend to avoid their first winless spring regular season since 2013.
Unfortunately for Duke, a slow start against a field stacked with the nation’s top squads had the team playing catch-up and created a deficit too difficult to overcome.
The Blue Devils turned in a 54-hole, 1-over-par score at the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic in Athens, Ga., putting the team in a tie for second alongside No. 2 Arkansas. Fifth-ranked Duke had some impressive individual finishes and found its form during the final 36 holes—highlighted by the event’s low final round of 3-under-par Saturday—but struggled to keep pace with No. 1 Alabama in Friday’s morning round, after which the Blue Devils were 16 shots back from the eventual champions.
“We had a great round,” Brooks said. “Our last two rounds, if you combine them, were tied for the low for the tournament for those two days, so that’s a great way to close. We just need to get a little bit more consistent when we start out. We got ourselves in a little bit of a hole again on that first day, a little too much of a hole, so we just talked about how we’ve got to get down and just work hard and get our short games going and see if we can’t find consistency from all three rounds.”
As has been the trend this spring, the Blue Devils were spearheaded by a mix of young and old, with senior Leona Maguire and freshman Jaravee Boonchant leading the way.
Boonchant opened the tournament with a round of 70 Friday morning, highlighted by a 14-hole, bogey-free stretch that included two birdies and her second collegiate eagle, which she made on the par-5 ninth hole. The Bangkok native stayed in form during her second Friday round by posting another 70 that also included an eagle—this time, on the par-4 fourth hole—to sit in a tie for fifth place after day one. Boonchant followed things up a final-round 73, with Brooks noting that the higher score Saturday was simply a matter of a few short putts missed by the freshman.
Carding her seventh top-10 finish of the season, Leona Maguire tied for third at 6-under-par. Maguire shot 70 in the opening round and closed with a 71 Saturday, but the senior’s best score came Friday afternoon, when she hit 15 greens in regulation and had just 30 putts to turn in a 3-under-par 69 and tie for the lowest score of any competitor in the second round. The Cavan, Ireland, native made her mark on the record books this weekend, too, as her Friday afternoon score allowed her to pass Amanda Blumenherst’s record for the most career rounds of even-par or better in school history.
“Her intelligence on the golf course is beyond her years,” Brooks said. “She’s a very smart player, and I think everybody in the field wishes they could just watch her negotiate a golf course.”
Virginia Elena Carta tied for the team’s third-lowest score, but was not even supposed to be in the lineup until a knee injury to Miranda Wang took the freshman out of competition days before the event. Recovering from an injury of her own, the junior made the unexpected start in Wang’s place and ended up tying for 28th place at 7-over-par.
Carta’s opening round was her first competitive one of the spring, which she used to shake the rust off with a 77 before leveraging three birdies against three bogeys to sign for an even-par round Friday afternoon and shooting a 74 in Saturday’s round. Brooks said he was originally concerned about Carta playing 36 holes in one day, but that overall she managed the tournament well given the circumstances.
After struggling to keep black numbers off the card during her first 36 holes with rounds of 75 and 79, Ana Belac had just one bogey Saturday and made four birdies in a stretch of eight holes to shoot 69. The strong final round is a continuation of an interesting pattern for the sophomore, who has posted the lowest Duke score of the final round in each of her last three tournaments despite never finishing better than third on the team in any of those events. Like Carta, Belac tied for 28th at 7-over-par.
Senior Lisa Maguire saw improvement on the final day as well—after rounds of 80 and 77 through 36 holes, Maguire notched her second-best score of the year with a 72 to help her tie for 41st at 13-over-par.
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Hannah O’Sullivan, who won the 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur, also competed in the event as an individual and finished in 69th after rounds of 85, 85 and 86. The freshman could not avoid big numbers throughout the contest—each of her rounds included at least two double bogeys or worse—but Brooks noted that she has recognized a mechanical adjustment in her swing that should allow her to improve moving forward.
“Hannah will be back playing the kind of golf that you’ve heard about,” Brooks said “We’re just trying to be patient, make sure she enjoys the process, but I think we’ve made a little bit of a discovery...I don’t want to overstate it, but it was maybe a little bit of a breakthrough.”
The Blue Devils will have a quick turnaround as they compete in next week’s ACC Championship in Greensboro, N.C., April 21-23.