When the Blue Devils tee off Monday morning, it will be their first team competition since hoisting the program’s seventh national championship last May.
No. 2 Duke will open its fall slate at the Royal Golf Club in Lake Elmo, Minn., with its sights set on bringing home the tournament’s team championship for the first time. At the ANNIKA Intercollegiate, the Blue Devils will be matched up with some of the top teams in the country, as No. 1 Southern California, No. 4 Texas, No. 5 UCLA, No. 9 Wake Forest and No. 10 Arizona State will all make the trip to Minnesota. The three-day event will run on consecutive days from Sept. 16-18 with the tee times all coming between 9:30 and 11 a.m.
Coming off the successful end of the 2018-19 season, Duke head coach Dan Brooks believes there isn’t any added pressure.
“We very seldom even talk about winning. It’s all about process, making yourself a little better tomorrow than you are today and that’s mentally, emotionally and physically. The wins take care of themselves.”
Aside from the six top-10 teams, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 14 Arizona and No. 26 Arkansas are the three remaining ranked teams participating, while unranked Alabama, Minnesota and Virginia will also be in attendance.
Last season, the Blue Devils opened the season at the same course and finished fifth. Ana Belac finished fourth overall after she shot 10-under par, while Jaravee Boonchant was five shots under and placed in a tie one place outside the top 10.
For this first tournament, the lineup was determined by a four-round qualifying competition where the seven players played against each other. The lowest five scores then earned a spot on the travel team, a tradition the team does every fall, according to Brooks.
For the 2019 edition of the season opener, Brooks will send out sophomore Gina Kim in the top spot, followed by junior Boonchant and Belac, the team’s lone senior. To close out the lineup in the fourth and fifth positions, redshirt junior Miranda Wang and freshman Erica Shepherd will look to solidify the strong roster Brooks will send out in his 36th season with the storied program.
The long-time head coach also said while this golf course will not be the most difficult one his team competes on all year, “it’s a good solid test.”
With a pair of newcomers and a returning roster filled with some of the top college golfers, each and every player plays an important role to the success of the team.
Belac, based on her experience and longevity within the program, will be counted on for taking a primary leadership role, but she will not be alone.
“We get leadership in a lot of different ways. They all need to be leaders to a certain extent because we’re a small team,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you’re way more than one-seventh of a team. Sometimes you define the direction of the team just by your actions and your decisions.”
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At the end of the day, Duke will have its first of many tests starting this week before the Blue Devils travel to Chicago, Ill., at the end of the month.
“I am excited about the people on my team so I’m just ready to get on the golf course with them, ready to compete,” Brooks said. “I’m excited about how excited they seem to be to get it going.”