The Blue Devils are back in action, and as expected, Gina Kim and Erica Shepherd are ready to roll as a dynamic duo.
Less than four months have passed since Duke saw its repeat national title hopes run dry in the Arizona desert, but fall golf creeps up on you fast. In tricky conditions at the ANNIKA Intercollegiate in Lake Elmo, Minn.—a tournament that included defending national champions Ole Miss and ACC stalwart Wake Forest—the Blue Devils kicked off their fall campaign with a second-place team finish at 7-under, seven strokes behind South Carolina.
“I feel good about our effort, and we played solid golf,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “We got contributions from everyone, and that’s always fun.”
After the graduation of the ever-steady Jaravee Boonchant, Brooks and company were looking to Kim and Shepherd for charges up the individual leaderboard during Wednesday’s final round. And charges they made, as Shepherd ended in solo fourth at -6, while Kim finished a shot back in a tie for fifth.
The stats align with their spots on the individual leaderboard as well, as Shepherd and Kim hit 83.3% and 77.8% of the greens in regulation over the 54 holes, respectively.
“When you’ve got really solid players like that, you just have a trust in them,” Brooks said. “So, I spent time with them, but you don’t feel like you need to be there. It does free you up, because they’re just rocks.”
With the two upperclassmen pacing the Blue Devils in Minnesota, Duke was able to surpass Wake Forest in the last stanza to capture runner-up honors. Shepherd, Kim, Anne Chen and Phoebe Brinker sent it down the stretch Wednesday, playing the last nine holes in net 7-under on the challenging Royal Golf Club.
Despite that, Duke was unable to run down the 12th-ranked Gamecocks, who were led by individual runner-up Hannah Darling.
“Hats off to South Carolina, they played great, they finished strong,” Brooks said on the Gamecocks’ performance. “We had a pretty good back side, but they kept playing golf, they kept playing great, and we couldn’t catch them.”
Shepherd and Kim evidently had it in gear in the Twin Cities, but who would step up as the “third star”? Well, enter Anne Chen, who shot a final round 69 to sneak into the top-10 at -2. In her second year in Durham, the Texan is looking to add consistency to her established reputation of being capable of filling it up in a hurry.
Nothing says consistency like top-10s, and if Chen takes some of the positive vibes from her closing birdie Wednesday, her second year might feature the sophomore in contention frequently.
“She hit a really good three-wood up there into the greenside bunker, and had to get it up and down from the bunker for that birdie on her last hole, Brooks said. “She’s shown a lot of poise in high-pressure situations.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
All that being said, a quick peek at the scorecards relays the message that while for the majority of the week, the Blue Devils put it together—Shepherd’s four straight birdies on the end of her front nine Tuesday come to mind on that front—there were still some rough patches. Shepherd followed up that plentiful stretch with a triple bogey on the 10th after a wayward drive, and freshman Rylie Heflin made consecutive double bogeys on the sixth and seventh holes of her college career Monday morning, en route to rounds of 75, 76 and 78 for joint 51st.
Add in the fact that Phoebe Brinker finished in a tie for 37th at +7, and it is clear that Kim, Shepherd and Chen spearheaded the Blue Devils throughout the event. The trio combined for 37 birdies over three rounds, with Kim’s bogey-free round of 70 Tuesday, Shepherd’s back-nine 33 Monday and Chen’s three birdies over her final six holes of competition sticking out.
The Blue Devils now get a couple weeks off from competition before heading to Illinois for the Windy City Collegiate Classic, which is set to tee off Oct. 4. Until then, it will just be more skill work for Duke, typical of what the fall season entails.
“I don’t think there’s anything specific that we need to do," Brooks said. "I like our golf swings, where they are right now, and I like what people are working on in their individual games. So I think it’s going to be more just general practice, just taking care of all parts of the game."
Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.