One week removed from a dominant, wire-to-wire victory at the ACC championship, the Blue Devils arrived in Madison, Wis., with hopes of grabbing a second consecutive win and asserting themselves as a favorite to contend at the NCAA championship later this month.
Thanks to a balanced team effort and another top performance from its star player, Duke did exactly that.
The top-seeded Blue Devils took home the title at the 54-hole NCAA Madison regional with a 14-under-par score of 850, finishing nine strokes clear of second-place Virginia and clinching a berth in the NCAA championship. The team found itself four strokes behind Virginia through Monday at the par-72 University Ridge Golf Course after Leona Maguire turned in her first non-counting round of the season, but the senior bounced back to lead her team to a day two score of nine-under-par that allowed Duke to jump ahead of the field with an eight-stroke cushion heading into the last day. The final 18 holes featured some tough weather that prevented other teams from shooting the low scores needed to catch up to the Blue Devils, whose continued solid play allowed Duke to cruise to victory Wednesday.
“I don’t know if I really have a strong expectation of what the score is going to be,” Blue Devil head coach Dan Brooks told GoDuke.com. “I know that we have a very talented team, and they’re capable of winning any tournament they play in, so in that regard, we came in and won. So, yeah, I guess that met my expectations.”
Despite opening the tournament with a 74—one of her highest scores of the year— Maguire still managed another top-10 finish thanks to a second-round effort in which she carded the second-lowest 18-hole score in Duke NCAA regional history with a 65. The Cavan, Ireland native’s success Tuesday resulted from solid ball striking. Maguire hit 17 greens in regulation and showed aggressiveness on the par-5’s, where she birdied four out of five holes. A three-under-par round of 69 Wednesday by Maguire featured birdies on holes 10, 11, 16 and 18, allowing the senior to tie for second.
"Obviously I would have liked to have started a bit better the first day, but to put good numbers together to help the team, you can’t really have asked for much more than that," Maguire said. "It gives me a lot of confidence going into nationals. I think everyone handled the conditions really well and everybody’s games are right where they need to be."
Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Blue Devils was the Monday and Tuesday performance of Lisa Maguire, who posted two of her lowest three rounds of the season at the 6,313-yard track while signing for counting rounds both days. Maguire bogeyed five holes in her opening round, but countered those with a stretch of four birdies in eight holes to shoot a 73. The senior continued the solid play in her next round with two bogeys and birdies apiece to post a 72—after which Brooks called her a “hero”—before shooting a 74 in round three to tie for 37th, her best result of the season.
Ana Belac, who led the team in last year’s regional, finished as the second-best Duke golfer by tying for 11th at one-under-par. Belac, a product of Portoroz, Slovenia, opened with a 70 that included birdies on the fourth, eighth, 13th and 15th holes, following it Tuesday with another 70 that included three birdies—highlighted by a 40-foot make on the 18th hole—against a single bogey on the par-4 fourth. The sophomore suffered a double bogey on her opening hole of the third round, but was otherwise steady, finishing with a three-over-par 75.
The other teams advancing to the NCAA championship from Madison are No. 3 Arizona State, No. 2 Southern California, No. 8 Virginia, No. 11 Ohio State and No. 4 Northwestern, while 18 other teams from three other regional sites also advanced Tuesday to complete the 24-team field.
Junior Virginia Elena Carta led the Blue Devils after 18 holes thanks to a four-under-par score of 68 in which Carta had three birdies and one bogey on each side while hitting 16 greens in regulation, the most of any Duke player Monday. Carta faltered Tuesday, though, as she had six bogeys or worse, hit just 12 greens and had six more putts than in her opening round en route to a 76. The Udine, Italy native found middle ground during her final round in which she signed for a 72 that featured three bogeys and three birdies on holes two, nine and 14, helping her tie for 17th.
“We didn’t play real well at the start, you know, [the weather] impacted everybody in the tournament,” Brooks said. “Then I saw Virginia get a great birdie on nine and it seemed like that was a turning point where we started to go back down again.”
Making her NCAA regional debut, freshman Jaravee Boonchant tied for 23rd. Boonchant opened with a combined 5 birdies and bogeys each to shoot 72 Monday and Tuesday before posting a 73 Wednesday.
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The win marks the first time all season the Blue Devils have won after trailing through 18 holes, a promising sign of resilience given the six-day marathon that is the NCAA championship, held May 18-23 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla. To earn its seventh national championship, Duke will need to make the top-15 cut after three days of stroke play and finish in the top eight after the fourth round before powering through two days of a match play bracket that will crown the eventual champion.
“You just sort of develop a viewpoint on any tournament that you play in that the reason you’re there is to win,” Brooks said. “That’s the only language this team has known for as long as I’ve been here. That’s all we’ve ever talked about. You hope that you get in [to the NCAA championship], but you’re here for another reason. This team would have been upset if we hadn’t won.”