After Jaravee Boonchant and Gina Kim each placed in the top five individually to net the Blue Devils a fourth place finish in their last tournament, the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, the Duke did not have a single player in the top 15 this time around.
Yet, all five Blue Devils finished within three strokes of each other for top 30 individual finishes, as the third-ranked Duke squad tied for second place at the Evans Derby Experience. In their first time at the par-72 Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika, Ala., the Blue Devils carded a three-day total of 874, good to finish 10-over-par and four strokes behind Florida State, which jumped to No. 6 in the national rankings following the win. The Seminoles had also been victorious in the the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate.
“It shows that we’re deep all the way through, and it speaks well to the odds,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said regarding all his players finishing in the top 30. “If you’ve got five players that are all playing that well and that close to each other, every one of them is capable of winning individually. The odds, when you’ve got five players playing like that, of one of them getting hot is pretty high. I think that stat bodes well for the future.”
Once again, it was a less-than-perfect final round on the last day that proved to be the difference. Junior Ana Belac and freshman Kim carded a 5-over 77 and a 7-over 79, respectively, including two straight double bogeys in the back nine for Kim. An overall 4-over-par team score of 292 allowed Florida State’s 285 to surge ahead and secure the event win.
“It was disappointing because we had really started to come back. In the early part of the back nine, we evened it up, so it was not much fun to see it turn back the other way,” Brooks said. “It was a course we had never seen...where you sort of learn as you go. The greens are really good and really challenging, and I thought they handled it really well. We just slipped right there at the end.”
Someone who didn’t slip on that last day was redshirt sophomore Miranda Wang recovered from a disappointing first two rounds with a career-best 4-under 68 on Day 3. Her brilliant final day included five birdies and just one bogey, and her 3-day score of 4-over-par, which tied for best on the team at 19th place overall, was a seven-stroke improvement from last tournament. The Blue Devils had fought through injuries and a flu outbreak at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, and interestingly enough, it was Wang who was dealing with a back injury on the third day this time around.
“I told her we’re going to have to injure her from now on so she can play well,” Brooks said with a laugh. “Really proud of Miranda—what a great round that last round was. What you can’t see is that she had really done great on the middle day. She really got clear on what she needed to do...and went out and shot 68. So I’m most proud of the work she’s done that led up to that.”
Also tied for the team lead was Belac, who had an excellent second day, featuring five birdies en route to a three-under 69 before faltering a bit for her Day 3 77. Meanwhile, senior Virginia Elena Carta finished 25th overall at 5-over-par by carding 74, 73 and 74 over the weekend. Her biggest struggle appeared to be the ninth hole, which she double bogeyed on both the first and third days. Rounding out the team were Kim, at 27th place with a 6-over-par scorecard, and sophomore Javaree Boonchant, at 30th with 7-over-par. Kim and Boonchant had both finished in the top five individually at Darius Rucker, but a difficult second day for Boonchant and third day for Kim brought their scores down.
“I think the important thing in golf—in any athletics, but especially in golf—is you don’t panic and change things just because you don’t get the result you want,” Brooks said. “You just keep doing what you believe is the best way to train, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Moving forward from this tournament, the quartet of Kim, Boonchant, Belac and Carta will head to Augusta, Ga. to compete in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur from April 3-6. The remaining players on the squad, Wang and sophomore Hannah O’Sullivan, competed as individuals at the Bryan National Collegiate in Browns Summit, N.C. this past weekend. Wang finished tied for 29th with a 6-over-par total of 222, while O’Sullivan finished in last place in the 96 player field at 41-over-par. The team will reunite for the ACC Championship in Greensboro, N.C. on April 18-20.
“Talk about great preparation for the conference tournament. Couldn’t be better,” Brooks said.
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