Finding himself all-square entering the 18th hole against Texas junior and top-ranked amateur Doug Ghim, Jake Shuman needed some magic to extend the year for himself and his teammates.
And with just the right touch the Duke senior did just that, drilling a 25-foot eagle putt to advance the second-seeded Blue Devils past the No. 7 Longhorns in the quarterfinals of the NCAA match play championship Tuesday morning at Karsten Creek Country Club in Stillwater, Okla. Although Duke eventually bowed out later in the afternoon to six-seed Alabama, the semifinal appearance topped off a successful season that included two victories and nine top-five finishes.
“Jake has really played the par-5s well all week. I was with him on nine and 18 and he really pounded the drives well to give himself birdie or even eagle looks. He has length and put the ball in position multiple times. Jake was not laying up. He had a perfect number and a perfect hybrid,” head coach Jaime Green said. “For him to step up and hit the golf shot as well as he did onto the green, that really put a lot of pressure on Doug. Two great golf shots and the eagle putt was just the icing on the cake.”
Despite Shuman’s drive once again going right on the 575-yard par-5, it caught the fairway while Ghim’s ball sat in a fairway bunker. With Ghim forced to layup following the drive, the Needham, Mass., native striped a hybrid onto the green in two, leaving him two putts away from victory.
“Jake is too good a player and had too good a career, and quite frankly has played too well over this last month for me to think he was not going to have a good day following some stroke play that he had not scored as well as he is capable of,” Green said.
In the morning match against Texas, Alex Smalley and Adrien Pendaries took care of business to put up two early points for the Blue Devils. Smalley jumped out to a 3-up lead through nine holes, and never looked back, winning his match 5&4 over Scottie Scheffler. Meanwhile, Pendaries, who has grown accustomed to match play competing in Europe, stepped up to the stage and defeated fellow freshman Drew Jones 4&3, never trailing in his match.
“The players in Europe are just generally used to playing more match play. Adrien was very excited about getting into the match play portion, you could see it in his eyes. He was really anxious to get out there and excited about the opportunity and had no doubt he was going to be victorious,” Green said. “The product is he had a little experience but the truth of the matter is he is an exceptional player—that is a pretty darn good combination and good to see him take care of business in the early match.”
Despite a valiant effort, sophomore Chandler Eaton fell to Spencer Soosman. Trailing for almost the entirety of the match, Eaton narrowed the deficit to 1-down with a birdie on the par-3 11th. However, the Alpharetta, Ga., native could not continue the momentum, losing three straight holes to fall 4&3. Evan Katz jumped out to a one-hole lead through two holes but only won one other hole in the rest of the match, losing 3&2 to Steven Chervony.
With the score 2-2, all eyes turned to the Shuman-Ghim match, with the senior Blue Devil gutting out the victory.
“We do not know who goes in what position. I had a feeling from their history that they were going to put Doug last. As the higher seed, we could choose to go first or defer to Texas so they got to put their guy out first and it was an S curve [snake draft] afterwards,” Green said. “I had it in my mind that Jake was going to be the last one on the golf course and had a guess they would leave Doug in that position so it worked out.”
Following the emotional 3-2 win over the Longhorns, Duke had just a few hours to prepare for another round of golf against the Crimson Tide–who entered the tournament as the No. 6 team in the country.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the grueling schedule and impressive play by Alabama were too much to overcome, leaving Green's squad with a tightly contested 5-0 loss.
Shuman’s heroics would not last, as he fell down six holes through just eight holes before ceding the match 6&5 to Davis Shore, putting Duke down 1-0 early.
For the other Blue Devils the matches were close before mid-round momentum pushed the Crimson Tide to the finish line. Eaton held a one-hole lead through eight, and was all-square heading into the 11th before Lee Hodges won the next two holes and eventually the match 3&2. Pendaries suffered a similar fate at the hands of Davis Riley, leading by one heading into the back nine before losing holes 11 and 12 and falling 3&2.
Katz lead through 11 but lost holes 14 and 15 to drop the contest 2&1. The last man up, Smalley was unable to prevent the sweep, also succumbing 3&2 after losing holes 11 and 12.
“We would be lying if we said that there were not times when guys felt the fatigue and exhaustion–maybe pushing the envelope a little bit or more frustrated. Honestly, we did not lose that match as the scoreboard would suggest,” Green said. “The Alabama coach, a dear friend and one of the best in the business came up to me after the round and said ‘we just happened to play very well in the middle of the round. You guys did not lose a thing, you played great.’ They really did a nice job of putting pressure on and we were just forced to make birdies on a really challenging course.”
Despite the semifinal loss, the future looks bright for the Duke squad. Next year, the team will be returning everyone but Shuman, Ben Silverman and Adam Wood. With this invaluable championship experience under their belt, the Blue Devils look primed to reappear deep into the NCAA championship once again, with a chance to secure the program’s first title.
“They want to cherish this right now. It is such a tight-knit group and they work so hard. It is easy for me to shower them with accolades, but these seniors left their mark creating an environment where guys cherish being on the team,” Green said. “This year has been a year of growth, we had our bumps, some final rounds where we did not compete very well. This team stuck with it and did not lose faith. They grew together and it was sweet to see it here at the national championship.”
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