Five Duke golfers traveled to compete in the Jackson T. Stephens Cup, and as the Florida sun shone on the bright green Bermuda grass of the Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, they were playing to win.
However, as the crew competed in the three-day competition, they didn’t see that outcome realized. The seventh-ranked Blue Devils saw improvement through the first 54 holes and advanced to the final day as one of four teams competing in match play, but their stroke-play finish wasn’t high enough to compete for the top spot. Still, the group persevered as it took on opponent South Carolina in a battle for third, and ultimately closed out its short, but sweet stay in Florida with the bronze behind Stanford and Wake Forest.
“We went down there to win it,” head coach Dan Brooks said in an interview with The Chronicle Thursday afternoon. “So that’s pretty much what we have in mind when we go into any tournament….You’re trying to get in the top two in stroke play, so that you’re playing for the championship in match play. We got third in the stroke play, and then we played South Carolina, which is a really good team, and we beat them, but it was for third, not first.”
Leaving without the first place finish was difficult, but the effort it took to get third didn’t go unappreciated. Senior Erica Shepherd defeated her South Carolina opponent Mathilde Claisse in a 5&4 decision, while freshman Andie Smith bested Justine Fournand 2-UP. Meanwhile, juniors Anne Chen and Phoebe Brinker fell to their Gamecock competitors, and the fate of which team would prevail was up to Rylie Heflin.
The swifthanded sophomore tried to keep her competitor Louise Rydqvist on her toes, beginning the round 1-UP as she drained a birdie on the second hole. But Rydqvist competed hard to keep the game back and forth before Heflin shot a bogey on hole No. 10. Heflin eventually returned with a birdie before outplaying her opponent with a par on hole No. 18 to 1-UP Rydqvist and give Duke a 3-2 win.
“In golf, especially when you're playing against the best, it has so much to do with attitude and mental toughness, and I just saw that,” Brooks said about the team’s performance.
The Blue Devils were led by Erica Shepherd in the competition, who finished Monday and Tuesday tied for 11th and in 7th, respectively. After carding 74 in the first round, she improved to 69 in the next two rounds of stroke play to finish four under par. Shepherd was the only Blue Devil to get more than one round in the 60s, though Smith and Chen each carded a 69. Additionally, the Greenwood, Ind., native’s career-best x35-hole bogey-free streak led her to 40 total pars throughout the tournament, the most of anyone competing, and she was one of six players to drain an eagle.
Smith and Chen also finished stroke play under par, going -1 and -2 respectively. Through the first day, all five of Duke’s competitors were in the top-20 competing, and by the second, the Blue Devils still had four remaining amongst the highest ranked players.
“I think we've had reason to gain confidence from all three tournaments we've played this fall, particularly this one,” Brooks said. “All three of them have plenty packed into them to give us confidence for the future. And this one in particular playing right with Stanford and then winning against South Carolina. There's a lot of great stuff there.”
The Blue Devils next head down the road to Chapel Hill for the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational, held Monday and Tuesday.
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