Inconsistency has been a trademark of Duke's season, and this week was no different.
The Blue Devils followed their impressive fourth-place finish at the Wake Forest Invitational with a lackluster showing at the Valspar Collegiate Monday and Tuesday, finishing 10th out of 11 teams in Palm City, Fla. The team has struggled to string together strong team showings at major events, with another example being earlier in the season, when Duke followed up a second-place finish at the Sea Best Invitational with a 12th-place finish at the Seminole Intercollegiate. So what has caused the inconsistency?
“It’s an individual sport within a team sport,” head coach Jamie Green said. “For some of the guys who struggled, the whole idea there is let’s really look closely at what’s going on when you’re struggling. It takes some journaling, it takes some meeting with guys, it takes some introspection from them."
Consistency on an individual level has not been an issue for all members of the team, though. Ian Siebers, for instance, ended the Valspar Collegiate with yet another top-20 finish, and has now only missed this mark in one out of his previous five tournaments.
“Frankly, let’s be blunt—it’s been similar guys [who have struggled],” Green said. “Ian Siebers has been extremely consistent, Adrien [Pendaries has] had some good events, Jimmy Zheng has had some good events."
The inconsistency of the team finishes comes down to some individual struggles that end up bringing down the team’s overall score, with the results from this week making that clear. Siebers finished one-under par but junior Quinn Riley ended at 17 over for the tournament and failed to break 80 in the final round. Pendaries also had a tough tournament, as his score was only one stroke better than Riley’s.
Another factor mentioned by Green was the team’s busy schedule and its negative impact on players.
“We’re traveling quite a bit. We’re going to a lot of tournaments because we didn’t play in the fall,” Green said. “There’s not a lot of time for guys to reset between tournaments, so if you’re struggling with something you might not get a lot of time to fix things before the next event."
Putting the season as a whole to the side, what were Duke golfers specifically struggling with at the Valspar Collegiate?
The team certainly was not at a loss for preparation, as Green emphasized the squad’s work going into the event to ensure it was ready to compete. Despite the undesirable result, the Blue Devils did also enjoy many positive moments throughout the event, with Green noting the birdies and tough pars his players were able to sink on certain holes. However, the culprit this week was wayward tee-shots.
“Definitely the bigger issue for us was keeping the ball in play. If you didn’t keep the ball in play it was extremely penal. You’ve got the ocean that was fronting some of the shots, and it can feel intimidating if you’re looking at a hole and you’re not feeling great about your driver,” Green said. “That’s probably something that we did not do quite as well. We made a few really big numbers and that’s obviously not something we like to see. Some of the ones we hit were really out of play."
Golf scores can shoot up fast when players are hitting balls out of bounds or into penalty areas, and it’s especially damaging in major college tournaments in which every shot is crucial. A viable strategy is sometimes taking less than a driver off the tee, an approach that Green supported. However, he also emphasized that it’s sometimes tough for college golfers to keep the driver in the bag.
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“We’ve tried to drill it into them in the practice round that when you’re out there, in the heat of the moment, sometimes it’s tough to step back, because you really want to believe in your ability and know you can drive it in play,” Green said. “There’s no need to hit the driver on tons of holes."
Whatever the solution is to the Blue Devils' woes, they have some time to figure it out before the Hootie Intercollegiate at Bulls Bay March 28-30.
If their on-and-off pattern of success this season is any predictor, the team could be in for a solid bounce-back performance.