CHAPEL HILL—Duke had been knocking on the door throughout the fall. After a final-day collapse a little less than a month ago kept the Blue Devils off the podium in Minnesota and roller-coaster effort in Chicago led to a sixth-place finish, it was only a matter of time until they sealed the deal.
This weekend, Duke did just that—and then some.
The No. 10 Blue Devils went wire-to-wire at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational, rolling to a win just a few miles from Durham at the Finley Golf Course. Duke seized the lead Friday on the par-72 6,379-yard track, and the Blue Devils never relinquished it, thanks to top-10 individual finishes by Ana Belac, Virginia Elena Carta and Jaravee Boonchant. Duke wound up 14-under-par, six shots ahead of second-place No. 6 Virginia.
Belac responded from an ugly 3-over-par back nine Saturday to post a 2-under 70 in the final round with four birdies to lead Duke for the weekend. The junior from Slovenia earned a solo third-place finish, her best individual mark of the season and the second-best for her collegiate career.
“It’s great to be rewarded for efforts that have been consistent throughout our fall so far. We just haven’t had the days come together for a win and we finally did,” head coach Dan Brooks said. “What we have on our team is a lot of passion and it’s wonderful. There’s great desire on the team, top to bottom—everybody wants to do well and they’re willing to put in the work.”
Back-to-back birdies on the third and fourth holes Sunday got things off to a strong start for Belac. She then played steady to the finish, going even over the final 14 holes with a birdie on the 18th to jump ahead of the Cavaliers’ Anna Redding at 6-under-par for the weekend.
Carta joined Belac in the birdie-birdie club to start Sunday—the Italian made par on the first, but went 2-under on the next two holes, moving to minus-8 for the weekend. A double-bogey-6 on the fourth, however, brought Carta back to earth, and the senior never regained her rhythm.
After posting rounds of 68 and 70 to start the tournament, Carta had a shot at her first individual victory since winning the NCAA title in 2016, her freshman season. Instead, she shot 2-over on the final 14 holes, ending the day in a tie for fifth.
Boonchant rounded out Duke’s core for the tournament with an eighth-place tie. The sophomore got off to a fiery start, carding a first-round 66 to help the Blue Devils to the lead on Friday. Yet, the Bangkok native struggled her way to a 76 on Saturday and bogeyed the second hole Sunday before closing her tournament with 16 holes of 2-under-par golf.
The trio of Belac, Carta and Boonchant will have the unenviable task of replacing former top amateur Leona Maguire, who graduated in May, but thus far, they have all shown that they are more than capable of stepping up to the plate.
“Ana, Virginia and Jaravee are all great players in their own right. Leona was something special, to be at the pinnacle for so many weeks, but these are very good players and I think they’re blazing their own trails, so it’s exciting,” Brooks said. “[Ana] is the most in control of her emotions. She’s even-keeled all the way and that’s great for golf.”
Sophomore Miranda Wang limped to the finish in Chapel Hill after opening with by far the best round of her fall. Wang birdied her very first hole, setting the tone for a 3-under-par 69—all four Blue Devils to score Friday shot in the 60s.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
But the good times didn’t last. Wang turned in a second-round 76 despite three birdies Saturday, and Sunday, she bogeyed four of the first 11 holes en route to another 4-over 76.
It was the exact opposite for Gina Kim. The freshman from Chapel Hill had some nerves in her first homecoming, and after a birdie on the first, she bogeyed the second and doubled the third. Things didn’t get much better after that—Kim went 5-over-par on the last 15 holes to finish the day at 79.
“Anybody that’s playing in their hometown and you’ve played that course 100-plus times, your expectations are probably a little bit higher,” Brooks said. “You can’t help but put pressure on yourself.”
Kim turned it around, though, and if not for a double-bogey on the 17th hole Sunday, the rookie would have finished her last two rounds at even par. Instead, Kim wound up with a 9-over-par 225 for the weekend, tying her for 48th.
Regardless, Brooks is optimistic about what lies ahead for his team as Duke readies for one last fall event—the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, N.C. in two weeks.
“I think it’s been a good fall, I really do,” he said. “I hope some people get after it a little bit in the offseason—nothing too big but just sharpen things up a little bit after Wilmington and keep a club in their hands so when we get back in January, it doesn’t feel like it’s a new game.”