Duke began its fall season in style over the weekend with an impressive second-place finish out of 14 teams in the Rod Myers Invitational.
The Blue Devils finished behind only Alabama through the 54 holes at Duke University Golf Club as Duke’s 862 cumulative score fell 11 strokes short of the Crimson Tide's championship-clinching 851. The strong performance marks Duke’s best showing since its April victory at the Stitch Intercollegiate, where the Blue Devils bested 12 other schools en route to a 3-under-par win.
Competing at home, Duke’s lineup had much more familiarity and experience with the layout compared to the other schools competing. However, as head coach Jamie Green explained, such prior knowledge can be both a blessing and a curse.
“Any time you have played it enough times that you know how to take advantage of the golf course, especially if you hit it in position off the tee, it’s very valuable," said Green. “We haven’t won this tournament in a number of years and I think part of the reason is if you play it enough times you also realize where a little bit of the trouble is.... The reality of it is we’ve got to focus on the fun and remember all the good shots you hit out there. Sometimes you play a golf course so many times you also remember the bad ones."
Familiar courses can be a double-edged sword. Players know where they need to hit the ball to succeed, but also where they will put up big numbers in a hurry if they make a mistake. Green described how the first and last four holes at the Duke University Golf Club can be treacherous and bemoaned the fact that his team was maybe too cautious in approaching these particular challenges. It takes considerable mental strength to attack layouts that are precariously difficult like that of hole 17—the course's most difficult—and the left dog legs of holes 1 and 2.
Nonetheless, despite the team’s prior experience perhaps impeding a path to victory, the familiarity certainly helped the team achieve a high finish. Another factor was the fantastic performance of William Love and Ethan Evans. Both freshmen began their collegiate golf careers by shooting 3-under for the weekend and claiming spots in the top 10.
“Truthfully [Love] has played some really great golf this summer, he won the Georgia State Amateur which is a big deal… and we knew Ethan could play but to have him come right in and feel comfortable on the golf course says a lot about what his abilities are not just physically but mentally,” Green said.
Love twice shot in the 60s and was also clutch down the stretch, as his par on the 18th hole Saturday helped Duke stand alone in second for the weekend. Of course, not only the freshmen had great starts to the season. Juniors Ian Siebers and Jimmy Zheng also played well, shooting for par and 1-over on the weekend, respectively.
Strong performances across the lineup leave the Blue Devils feeling confident after the fall season's opening tournament. They will look to continue the positive momentum at the Husky Invitational in Bremerton, Wash., next week, and all 10 golfers on the roster will be making the trip instead of the usual five or six.
“I’m just looking forward to it because you hate to leave after everybody works hard and to have to have four or five guys sitting back home not able to enjoy that travel because that’s really the fun part of being on an athletic team," Green said. "I know the energy's going to be high."
What’s more, Duke will again benefit from some familiarity with the course.
“We actually have two guys on the team from the Seattle area, so hopefully we’ll lean on Ian Siebers’ and Ethan Evans’ experiences, they both are Pacific Northwest guys and they’ve both played that golf course, so we’ll make sure they share all their local knowledge with us,” Green said.
Fresh off a successful start to the season, again sporting some experience with the course and with morale higher because the full squad is making the trip, the Blue Devils are looking to post another impressive score.
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