It is not often that two surefire contenders compete in the same event seven months out from the postseason, but that is exactly what happened this week on the outskirts of Chicago.
In their second event of the fall swing, the Blue Devils took the stage in the Windy City Collegiate Classic, and who better to measure their mettle against than a loaded Stanford squad? With freshman phenom Rose Zhang joining last year’s ANNIKA Award winner Rachel Heck and All-American Angelina Ye, expectations are sky high for the Cardinal. Add in Duke bringing back All-Americans Gina Kim and Erica Shepherd along with some breakout possibilities in Phoebe Brinker and Anne Chen, and we clearly have a dominant storyline. Golfweek might currently have these teams ranked No. 3 and No. 14, respectively, but come springtime, Stanford should be the cream of the crop, with Duke hot on its trail.
While neither were perfect over the course of 54 holes, the Cardinal emphatically came out on top in this initial bout, holding on for an eight-shot victory over Virginia at +14—34 strokes ahead of Duke, which ended in solo ninth at +48.
“Well, we didn’t have a good tournament, that’s evident by the scores and our placed finish,” Duke head coach Dan Brooks said. “It’s one thing to have treacherous conditions and not be able to score well, but we didn’t place well either. Our attitudes were great, everybody seemed to be working hard, we just weren’t very sharp.”
Scoring was unusually high throughout the 54-hole event, evident by the fact that only four total rounds in the 60s were carded among the 84 players in competition. Westmoreland Country Club posed an extremely challenging test from a length perspective—the course measured out to 6,432 yards, longer than the average yardage at an LPGA event.
Just being a little wayward off the tee compounded in a hurry, with the aforementioned length supplemented by harsh penalties for missing the short grass.
“There was deep rough and very well-placed fairway bunkers, and severe fairway bunkers,” Brooks said on the course layout. “So you had a premium on driving it straight, and if you didn’t drive it straight, it was either gonna be high rough or steep face fairway bunkers that got your ball.”
Simply put, the Blue Devils just could not avoid the big number, carding 23 double bogeys or worse in the three rounds—junior Megan Furtney even racked up a quintuple-bogey nine on the 18th during the opening round, part of a +17 team total on that hole alone.
Compare that to 10 doubles or worse for Stanford, and it is clear where Duke was losing shots, especially when you factor in that it actually racked up just three fewer birdies than the tournament winners.
Despite the collective struggles, some positives resulted from the week. Gina Kim parlayed a birdie, eagle, birdie stretch to close out her second round with a 71. Erica Shepherd bounced back from a second-round 81 to post a 73 Tuesday, a sign that the junior can tweak and rebound between rounds. Freshman Rylie Heflin, competing as an individual on the final day, matched the Blue Devils third-lowest score with a 75.
Then there was Furtney, who as a Chicago native was able to suit up in front of some hometown fans. Despite finishing in a tie for 53rd at +17, it was still quite the experience for the junior.
“She had family out there. We saw a lot of fans of hers walking around with Duke gear on, so it was pretty neat. From what I could tell, she really enjoyed that,” Brooks said.
The Blue Devils now get set for the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational, set for Oct. 15-17 in at the UNC Finley Golf Course. But the lingering comparisons to that West Coast power will remain, even as the fall moves on, a fact that Duke is privy to.
“I think it’s really important to gauge where you stand,” Brooks said on the value of these types of early season tests. “It’s a long time til May, so we’ve got lots of time to get done what we need to get done.”
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Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.