Fall it may be, the ANNIKA Intercollegiate is still a marquee event on the women’s college golf calendar.
Duke, at the beginning of a five-event-in-seven-week stretch, flew to the upper Midwest for the eighth annual ANNIKA at Royal Golf Club outside of Minneapolis. The field, one that head coach Dan Brooks deemed "tremendous," featured 11 of the top 21 teams from last season’s final Golfweek rankings, including national runner-up Oregon, national semifinalist Auburn, Big Ten champion Michigan and three of the four ACC semifinalists (champion Wake Forest, Virginia and the Blue Devils).
By virtue of a 4-under second round sandwiched by a pair of over-par ledgers, Duke finished the 54-hole tournament in a tie for fourth with South Carolina at +1. Just four shots separated second-place Texas and the sixth-place Ducks on the leaderboard, with Wake Forest capturing a four-shot victory at -6.
"Anytime you’re playing well against the best, you’re gaining from that experience," Brooks said.
He also called his team’s overall performance a “confidence boost” despite Duke not finishing on top of the board.
The Blue Devils broke in a new lineup with freshman Andie Smith joining familiar faces Erica Shepherd, Phoebe Brinker, Anne Chen and Rylie Heflin. Duke was then able to evaluate itself against top-tier competition, which may benefit the Blue Devils moving forward.
“[I'm] very happy, particularly with the fact that everybody contributed,” Brooks said.
Duke was led by Brinker, as the big-hitting Delaware native shot consecutive rounds of 69 to close in solo fourth at 6 under, three shots back of individual medalist Amanda Sambach. The second and third rounds marked the reigning ACC individual medalist’s first time shooting back-to-back rounds in the 60s in a collegiate event.
Brinker said that throughout the offseason, she focused on her wedge control—with how far she drives the ball, the Archmere Academy alum typically has shorter clubs into par 4s than the rest of the field. That focus paid off in Minnesota, including during a 4-under 32 on the back nine Tuesday that put Brinker in the mix.
Despite it being her first competitive rounds of golf since May’s NCAA Regional, Brinker said that “it was easy to get back in the competitive mindset,” thanks to the program having internal qualifying for the ANNIKA last week. Plus, prior experience at Royal Golf Club gave Brinker an understanding of how to avoid mistakes and the course itself, allowing her to improve significantly on her tie for 37th in this event last fall.
“I think that allowed me to just be confident in my game and know that I could be competitive and towards the top of the leaderboard,” Brinker said on her preparation for the event.
Then there was the college debut of Smith, a 5-foot-4 Floridian with six career AJGA wins and the 2021 4-1A individual state title to her name. Smith finished in a tie for 27th at +5, in the top half of the 60-player field.
Starting on the second side Monday, Smith got off to an inauspicious start with a double bogey on the short par-4 15th, then bogeyed four of her final nine holes to start her Duke career with a 77. Even her Tuesday round was a rough one out of the gates, as Smith sat at +8 nearing the halfway point of the tournament.
But then, the Benjamin School alum, who Brooks said is “proving to be a rock” and “plays with a lot of passion," turned on the jets.
Smith got hot on the greens during her final 11 holes Tuesday, rolling in three putts from outside 25 feet en route to a back-nine 31. While she came back to Earth in a final-round 75, Smith’s electrifying Tuesday stretch showed what could be.
Brooks was impressed by Smith’s preparation for the event, saying that during the practice round, the freshman was “no nonsense” and was constantly taking notes on the layout.
Smith concurred, telling GoDuke after her second round that, “after the practice round and the first round, going out there today and giving it my best run at it was all that I could do.”
As for the other three Blue Devils, Shepherd had a consistent week, firing rounds of 72-73-72 to come in solo 12th at 1-over, while Chen and Heflin were hindered by the big number. Chen tripled her ninth hole of round one, and Heflin carded three double bogeys throughout the week, as the duo finished in a tie for 41st at +7 and a tie for 47th at +10, respectively.
Now, the Blue Devils get their longest break of the fall campaign, as the Windy City Collegiate Classic outside Chicago tees off Oct. 3.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.