Big goals require little improvements every day, and that was reflected by No. 20 Duke's play at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate held in Hilton Head, S.C. Over the three-day event at the par-71 Long Cove Club, Duke was able to improve on its score each round, moving up to 10th place by the end of the event.
Although the program was not able to capture a top-five finish, the daily growth that the Blue Devils displayed is an encouraging sign coming off the departure of senior Gina Kim, who left Duke to turn professional earlier this year. From the first tee, Duke was consistent in cutting its scores, turning in rounds of 301, 294 and 290 for a total of 885.
“The good thing is that we improved throughout the tournament," said head coach Dan Brooks. "We started on what I call harder holes, a little bit of a deficit early, but then the rest of the day was really solid. So I’d say a good half of the golf we played was quite good."
The context of the event justifies such growth as an achievement of its own. On opening day, many teams faltered to the strong winds. For instance, while Duke came in with a score of 301 Monday, many other high-caliber teams posted similar scores, with No. 4 South Carolina finishing the day with a score of 303. Furthermore, while teams like No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 6 Alabama had their scores fluctuate throughout the three days, Duke was one of just three teams out of seventeen that had its score consistently go down each day. Such steps require patience—a principle that Brooks stresses for this team.
“We just got to keep working hard and stay patient. The worst thing we could do at this point is just expect it to be better than it is right now,” said Brooks. “There’s a lot of the season left, and we have plenty of time to get to where we want to go.”
While each Blue Devil played a role in decreasing the round scores, sophomore Phoebe Brinker ultimately led the way for Duke to rise after Monday's first round. From her first day on the course, the Wilmington, Del., product had the best start for the Blue Devils. After starting the day with a bogey on the first hole, Brinker was able to sink two consecutive birdies on the second and third holes before parring the next seven to be 1-under through 10 holes. The sophomore continued to persevere against unfavorable winds, ending the day 2-over and in 22nd place individually.
On the second day of the tournament, however, Brinker struggled to find an early rhythm. Registering a 5-over for the day, the 2021 All-ACC honoree sunk one birdie against an uphill green on the 16th hole, dropping down to 38th place with a two-day score of 149.
However, Brinker came back on the final day of the tournament, leading the Blue Devils with a 2-under by playing her best set of the tournament, recording four birdies over the span of five holes to finish the day with a score of 69. This ultimately placed her 16th individually, while pulling up the team’s finish in the process.
“I was really steady the entire week," said Brinker. "I hit a lot of fairways, and I hit a lot of greens. So I just knew that I had to stay patient and that if I just kept at it, the putts would start to fall, and that’s what happened today. I’m really happy with how everything turned out.”
Thus, patience and improvement continue to become the team’s identity for these Blue Devils, who still have much of the season ahead of them. As such, Duke's next action comes March 13 at the Northrop Grumman Regional Challenge.
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