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ChronSports’ 2020 what-if series: Duke men's golf

Junior Evan Katz finished the spring campaign as Golfweek's No. 11 ranked player in the country.
Junior Evan Katz finished the spring campaign as Golfweek's No. 11 ranked player in the country.

With the suspension and later cancellation of all Duke athletic competition due to the spread of coronavirus, many Blue Devil seasons were abruptly cut short. The Chronicle is going to take a look back at those seasons affected as well as what we missed out on with their cancellations. We've already looked at men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, men's lacrosse, women's lacrosse, men's tennis and women's golf. Next up: men's golf.

Season summary

Duke never achieved consistent success during the shortened 2020 campaign. However, the highs the Blue Devils reached during the season prove that they missed out on the opportunity to maximize their potential and make a sizable impact on the collegiate golf landscape. In the limited competition they had, they were able to go toe-to-toe with national powerhouses, contend in major tournaments and post impressive individual numbers. Ultimately, Duke proved it was one of the best teams in the country, finishing the abbreviated spring season ranked No. 12 in the nation.

The success the Blue Devils found in their completed fall season perfectly encapsulates their immense potential, and the damage they could’ve done if they had the opportunity to compete for a national title in the spring. In five fall tournaments, Duke posted one win and two title match appearances. Even in its worst showing as a team, a seventh-place finish at the Nike Collegiate Invitational, juniors Adrien Pendaries and Evan Katz posted top-10 individual finishes in a field full of the country's best players.

Duke’s win at the Gulf Club of Georgia Collegiate tournament in late October was certainly the high point of the season. Ranked No. 10 in the country at the time, the Blue Devils posted a score of two-under par for the tournament, making them the only team to finish under par. The field was full of powerhouse programs, including then-No. 1 Georgia Tech, then-No. 4 Wake Forest, then-No. 9 Pepperdine and then-No. 13 North Carolina. Duke was also the only team in the tournament to have three individual top-10 finishes in Katz, Pendaries and senior Steven DiLisio.

Team MVP

Especially in an abbreviated season, golf is a hard sport to pick out an MVP. Even the best players in the world can light up the course one day and look absolutely lost the next. That being said, Katz had the biggest impact in Duke’s best results on the season, making him the team’s most valuable player. 

The Washington, D.C., product finished the season as Golfweek’s No. 11 ranked player in the country. Playing in four stroke play tournaments, Katz led Duke with a 70.92 scoring average. He finished the season exceptionally strong, posting top-10 finishes in the last three stroke play tournaments he competed in. Stroke play tournaments weren’t the only stages where the Landon School alum made an impact, however, as he finished the season with a 5-3 record in match play, and paired with senior Chandler Eaton for two wins at both the Jack Nicklaus Invitational and the Cypress Point Classic.  

Katz’s defining moment this season coincided with Duke’s best result as a team, as he led the Blue Devils to their only win of the season at the Golf Club of Georgia Collegiate tournament. Katz posted an impressive three-under score of 213 on his way to a sixth-place individual finish.

What we missed out on

While the NCAA has granted extra eligibility options for spring athletes, it’s unclear what the Blue Devils' individual seniors will decide to do next year. If DiLisio, Eaton and Harrison Taee choose to come back next year, Duke would have a formidable squad with a deadly combination of young talent and veteran leadership. However, if the seniors decide to leave, the Blue Devils may have missed a legitimate shot to compete for an ACC and NCAA championship. 

While the ACC is stacked with incredible talent, Duke ended the spring season ranked as the fourth-best team in the conference and No. 12 overall. Five other ACC teams finished in the top-15, with Georgia Tech leading the way at No. 3, Wake Forest at No. 6, Louisville at No.11, North Carolina at No. 13 and Clemson at No. 14.

At the time the season was cancelled, Duke had three tournaments left before postseason play. The Blue Devils didn’t have a strong finish to the campaign, placing 12th out of 15 in the last tournament they competed in: the Southern Highlands Collegiate. However, the three tournaments Duke was scheduled to play in before the ACC and NCAA tournaments would’ve been the perfect opportunity to right the ship before the most important stretch of the year.

Best-case scenario

Golf is a fickle mistress, and success in tournaments where the field is stacked with so much talent is contingent on an abundance of factors that are impossible to predict. Because of that, it’s impossible to say how Duke would’ve finished the season had it gotten the opportunity. However, previous tournament results and the Blue Devils' No. 4 national ranking by the GCAA Coaches following the fall season show that the best-case scenario for the spring could’ve been victories in the ACC and maybe even NCAA championships.

Duke’s win at the Gulf Club of Georgia Collegiate in the fall shows that it could not only compete with, but beat the best teams in the country. Success in stroke play tournaments might not be the best indicators of success in match play postseason competition, and the Blue Devils did struggle in some match play events. But the talent the Blue Devils were equipped with is undeniable, and they certainly had the potential to make a lot of noise in the season’s biggest stages.

Worst-case scenario

Similarly to what was said above, golf can be tricky to project best and worst-case scenarios. Realistically, the worst-case scenario for any golf team is that it doesn't have it one day in a big tournament, and a couple of bad rounds spell doom. We know that Duke was immensely talented and would have competed in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. That talent doesn’t make the Blue Devils impervious to lackluster rounds, though, so their worst-case scenario would’ve been simply not showing up in those big postseason tournaments and wasting the potential they had. 

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