It's officially a wrap for Duke's 2021 season.
The Blue Devils ended their season in lackluster fashion Wednesday at the NCAA Noblesville Regional in Noblesville, Ind., finishing 12th out of 13 teams in the event. Duke had to finish in the top five to move on to the NCAA Championship week, and their 33-over-par finish was well out of striking distance of this goal. The disappointing tournament concludes an up and down season, which seemed to constantly alternate between fantastic and underwhelming performances in events.
So what went wrong this week for the Blue Devils? The high scores were not primarily a result of a particularly difficult course layout.
“The layout wasn’t overly demanding,” head coach Jamie Green said. “It had rained a good bit the first day, and the wind blew, so it was enough to separate the field. If you hit it out of play off the tee or around the green, there was enough thick rough that it made it very difficult to scramble."
A recurring theme for Duke has been strong performances from freshman Ian Siebers coupled with higher finishes from other players, and that trend continued this week. Siebers was under par in two out of the three rounds in the tournament and recorded yet another top-20 finish, and the freshman will certainly be a force to reckon with throughout his college career.
The rest of the team, however, had a tougher week and no other Duke golfer was able to get under par in any of their rounds. The Blue Devils were carding scores that were dangerously close to rising out of the 70s, with multiple 78s and 79s preventing the team from any realistic chance of making it to the NCAA Championship. Graduate student Steven DiLisio, who struggled to a 7-over in his final round as a Duke golfer, was blunt in characterizing his performance.
“Not a ton was working too well, I putted OK but I didn’t drive it very well,” DiLisio said. “You know you miss the fairway and there’s some waist or knee high grass that you’re kind of just hitting it out sideways from and trying to make a four or five, and I did that a few too many times. So in general not a ton was going too well.”
Green cited an overemphasis on technique as opposed to scoring as a big reason for Duke’s struggles in the regional and as a whole this year.
“We got a bit too technique driven, and sometimes if you’re out there playing golf swing then you’re not playing golf and you’re gonna struggle if it’s not quite right,” Green said. “If you don’t have a golf swing that’s really feeling great then if you get a little technical out there then you’re not hitting shots anymore, you’re really just making swings."
Despite the rough finish, the team did show resilience in its concluding tournament, as it followed its opening total of 305 strokes with a Day 2 finish that was 16 strokes lower at 289. As for the reason for the dramatic turnaround—some tough love and hard coaching from Green.
“I kind of challenged them a bit after that first round, as it was a very disappointing finish for us. We didn’t completely shoot ourselves out of the tournament but we put ourselves in a very deep hole. So I tried to press a couple of buttons and push them a little bit in holding themselves accountable to some lower scores the next day and ‘What can you do, what can you do?’ and sort of called it out guy by guy.”
Nonetheless, in what seemed to be a microcosm of the Blue Devils’ season as a whole, the regional's final day saw a return to the frustrating play of Day 1. The team carded 303 strokes in the last round of their season, 14 strokes above its day two finish.
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Although the regional was not Duke’s best showing, both Green and Dilisio were able to find numerous positives to take away from the season overall.
“I was pretty proud of the team and the attitude we had all year—we were disciplined and worked hard. We had a good attitude and a lot of talent,” said DiLisio, and Green echoed this praise of the team’s amazing work ethic.
“Probably what I’m most proud of is that the guys care and they put the time in,” Green said.