As 2021 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils.
Coming in at No. 8: Duke women's golf combines youth and experience to finish in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. For the full list, click here.
It arrived a year late, but Duke had an opportunity to defend its seventh national title.
After the 2020 spring campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Devils had their eyes on the prize this past May. On the heels of a commanding win over Florida State in the match-play finals of the ACC Championship, a week that included then-junior star Gina Kim capturing the individual crown, the Blue Devils entered the Columbus Regional as a No. 1 seed and all of their goals within reach.
Over three days at The Ohio State University Golf Club Scarlet Course, the rock-solid trio of Kim, Jaravee Boonchant and Erica Shepherd steered Duke to a joint second-place finish with Arizona and a gateway into the next round—the NCAA Championship in Scottsdale, Ariz.
First up at Grayhawk Golf Club, the stroke-play portion. 72 holes of pressure-packed golf in the Valley of the Sun. But pressure was no unfamiliar foe for this program, and with eight spots in match-play up for grabs, the Blue Devils breezed through by virtue of a +3 team total and a runner-up finish. Kim and then-freshman Phoebe Brinker led the way, with matching two-under marks and joint fifth finishes.
Then, the pressure was dialed up a notch. Actually, make that five notches. As the No. 2-seed for match-play, Duke was handed No. 7-seed Arizona State in the quarterfinals. Courtesy of match-play phenom Anne Chen annihilating the Sun Devils’ Alessandra Fanali 7&5, Shepherd going toe to toe with top-20 amateur Linn Grant for the full 18 holes and Kim’s clutch birdie on the drivable 17th to secure a 2&1 win over the accomplished Olivia Mehaffey, Brinker’s 2&1 win over Amanda Linner was the clincher. Semifinals, meet Blue Devils.
But after a morning that was highlighted by heroics from Kim and ball-striking prowess throughout the lineup, the afternoon semifinals featured a Duke bunch that was not quite as sharp. Oklahoma State, the No. 3-seed and the only team standing in between the Blue Devils and a berth in the finals, pounced.
Kim never led in a 4&3 loss to Maja Stark, as the seemingly unflappable ACC medalist was stuck in neutral throughout the back nine. Shepherd’s three-putt on 14 gave control of the match to the Cowgirls’ Isabella Fierro. Chen battled with what looked like a crucial birdie on 17 to extend her match with Lianna Bailey, but right around the same time back on 16, Rina Tatematsu closed Brinker out to secure the vital third point and finish the deal. With the proceedings over, Madison Hinson-Tolchard was awarded a 1-UP win over Boonchant, making it a clean sweep for Oklahoma State.
The missed opportunity was clear. Head coach Dan Brooks lost out on a shot at his eighth NCAA Championship since he took the position in 1985, and Boonchant turned professional after a storied Duke career this past summer.
Yet, while falling just short of a repeat was certainly difficult to cope with, the future is still bright for the program on campus with the most national titles.
Who knows, maybe May of 2022 could see the Blue Devils go a little bit further.
READ MORE on Duke women's golf's season:
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Max Rego is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor for The Chronicle's 117th volume.