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Duke women's golf seeks seventh national title at NCAA championship this weekend

<p>Virginia Elena Carta tied for the individual title with teammate Gina Kim.</p>

Virginia Elena Carta tied for the individual title with teammate Gina Kim.

In Oklahoma, the official state motto is Labor omnia vincit, meaning "Work conquers all." So it is only fitting that if Duke hopes to come out on top in its trip to the Sooner State, the Blue Devils will have to outwork some stiff competition.

After routing the field in its regional, Duke enters the NCAA championship with big-time momentum as the Blue Devils will look to claim a seventh national title at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. The year's final tournament begins with 54 holes of stroke play Friday through Sunday followed by an additional 18 holes for the top 15 teams Monday. 

Then, the eight lowest-scoring teams will compete in bracket-style match play to determine a champion with the quarterfinals and semifinals set to take place Tuesday prior to a Wednesday final.

Although the course and setup are different than years past, Oklahoma is familiar to Duke head coach Dan Brooks—the Blue Devils captured both their first and sixth national titles in the state, with the most recent coming in 2014. But with a completely new group, the hunger for yet another crown is still there even in his 34th season.

"I like the fact that we came out of regionals with some pretty clear ideas on what to work on, so we’ll have a good week and there’s a little bit of chance involved but a lot of this we can control, so we’re going to get after it," Brooks said last Friday in Durham. "[Karsten Creek is] very hilly and has very undulated greens. They’re probably going to have the rough up a little bit.... We talked all year about being able to keep the ball below the wind, the wind blows out in Oklahoma, so keeping the ball down and just having all the parts of your game up to speed."

Of course, Duke will be in search of more than just a team championship. The Blue Devils had three players finish among the top 20 at the Madison regional, led by senior Leona Maguire, who responded from a two-over-par performance in the opening round with scores of 65 and 69 to tie for second as an individual.

With rounds like that in Stillwater, Maguire could be in contention for a national title of her own.

"It’s been an incredible experience," Maguire said of her time in Durham. "I really couldn’t have asked for anything better here my four years.... Obviously, I would like to finish it off with a national title. It’s kind of the one thing that’s missing. It would be nice to go out on a high, sort of put that cherry on top. I really couldn’t have asked for much more."

But Maguire is not the only one who could wind up as an individual champion. Just two years ago, then-freshman Virginia Elena Carta posted an NCAA-record 16-under-par at Eugene Country Club in Oregon to top the field. The junior has struggled through injury this season, yet Carta is trending in the right direction at just the right time.

And don't forget about freshman Jaravee Boonchant, who struggled in Madison but has been Duke's second-best player this season and nearly topped Maguire at the ACC championship last month before falling short in a three-hole playoff.

"When you play normal golf, we don’t really have a lot of pressure on us, and playing with Leona was a great experience. She’s a good player and it sure put me [under] a lot of pressure," Boonchant said. " I’m really excited because where we are going, I played there before for two years, last year and the year before in junior golf, so I’m really excited to get to play that golf course again."

Assuming the Blue Devils can get through the tournament's first four days of stroke play—something they failed to do last season—Duke will encounter match play, a format it hasn't played in any event this year.

Match play, which involves all five players on a team's roster going one-on-one against each of an opponent's five, brings its own unique challenges compared to the typical stroke-play format. But the Blue Devils are well-versed in match play despite not having played it since the middle of last season—Maguire won the 2017 Ladies' British Open Amateur Championship and Carta fell just short in the 2016 U.S. Women's Amateur, both of which were contested in the format.

So although it might be looking a bit down the line, Duke's head coach already has match-play strategy in the back of his mind.

"You can have a little bit of control over who plays who. You can’t completely control it because they’re making choices also," Brooks said. "You just think a little bit about who maybe you don’t want to play with somebody, and you can sort of generally make sure that one or two worst things don't happen, but that’s about all the control you can have on it, so it’s just a bit of a tough thing. It’s pretty cool, though."

For Maguire, who will play one last time alongside her twin sister, Lisa, the tournament represents much more than just a final shot at yet another personal milestone. Leona Maguire knows this event represents the end of her Blue Devil career, and she hopes to end it on a high note, bringing home the school's first team title in any sport since 2015.

"It’s like family. These are some of my best friends, these girls, and I’ve got one sister on the team but I might as well have four," she said. "I’ve always said coming to Duke was the best decision I’ve ever made and likewise staying here was as well.... I wanted to honor that commitment that I made to coach and our team. I wanted to win a national title, so here I am four years later hopefully trying to do that."

Drew Johnson contributed reporting.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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