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Column: Despite deflating NCAA Championship semifinal loss, Duke women's golf will be back

<p>The Blue Devils reached the match play semifinals for the second straight year.&nbsp;</p>

The Blue Devils reached the match play semifinals for the second straight year. 

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.—Look, I get it.

Once you reach the semifinals, it’s heartbreaking if you fail to win it all no matter the odds. It’s especially difficult to stomach when you’re a national No. 1 seed and the defending champion. 

So yeah, the Blue Devils will leave Arizona dissatisfied. They played brilliantly down the stretch against Arizona State in the quarterfinals, but could not mount the back-nine charge needed to snatch victory from Oklahoma State’s holsters in the semifinals. 

But a quick peek at 2021-22 reveals that Duke is not going anywhere.  

The Blue Devils will lose Jaravee Boonchant to the professional circuit, and believe me, that is a major loss. The four-time All-American was rock solid as a Blue Devil, churning out pars and seemingly never losing control of her golf ball. 

That level of dependability and experience is hard to replace, but Duke has what it takes to make up for Boonchant’s departure, albeit not with just a single player. Gina Kim and Erica Shepherd are still in the picture, meaning the Blue Devils could have their version of Kennedy Swann and Julia Johnson, the 1-2 punch that led Ole Miss to its first national title Wednesday. And don't forgot about Megan Furtney, who brings experience and depth to the table as a rising junior. 

In other news, the younger crowd of Blue Devils has matured in a hurry. The freshman tandem of Phoebe Brinker and Anne Chen lived up to the hype and then some after decorated AJGA careers, as both rose to the occasion under the postseason scrutiny.

Chen showed the potential to be a killer in match play situations, best evidenced by her miraculous comeback against Florida State’s Charlotte Heath in the ACC finals and her 7&5 blitzing of Alessandra Fanali in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Brinker, while just a year removed from junior golf, has a refined skillset already. The Delaware native is excellent from tee to green, and now has a season of measuring her talents against the best college players in the country.

As a whole, the program remains committed to the process under head coach Dan Brooks. That process was especially apparent during Tuesday’s matches, as Brooks marched alongside Shepherd during her crucial match against Linn Grant in the quarterfinals. 

Typically, Brooks tends to avoid specific instruction regarding his player’s games, opting to act as a form of support during challenging rounds. That happened to be exactly what Shepherd needed in her tug-of-war with the Arizona State star. 

“She thinks really well on the golf course, I was giving her an opportunity to voice some things. And there were times when she was just talking, thinking out loud," Brooks said.

If you’re wondering whether Duke will add any newbies to the equation, well you’re in luck. Rylie Heflin and Sophia Bae will arrive in the fall, and the two racked up no shortage of accolades during their respective junior golf careers. 

Combined, Heflin and Bae have posted 22 top-fives in AJGA events since 2016. The return of a fall golf season, which Chen and Brinker missed out on yet still filled in admirably for Ana Belac and Miranda Wang, will also pay major dividends for the incoming freshmen. 

In a year’s time, the odds are high that we will see Duke among the favorites once again in Scottsdale along with Mississippi, Oklahoma State and Stanford. The setting will be familiar as well, with Grayhawk set to host the second of three straight NCAA Championships in 2022. 

That being said, there is one area that is going to require some improvement. Match play so often comes down to putting contests, so Duke will have to get dialed in to the green speeds and roll in a few more 10-15 footers come next year. 

At the end of the day, the Blue Devils are built to contend once again. How that turns out come next May is up the air, especially considering how unpredictable this sport can be. But hey, all you want is a chance. 

Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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